Archive for July, 2006


Somebody emailed this to me, and I thought it was worth sharing:

A collector of rare books ran into an acquaintance who told him he had just thrown away an old bible that he found in a dusty, old box. He happened to mention that Guten-somebody-or-other had printed it.

“Not Gutenberg?” gasped the collector.

“Yes, that was it!”

“You idiot! You’ve thrown away one of the first books ever printed. A copy recently sold at an auction for half a million dollars!”

“Oh, I don’t think this book would have been worth anything close to that much,” replied the man. “It was scribbled all over in the margins by some guy named Martin Luther.”


July 31, 2006 at 11:44 am Leave a comment

Ex libris microscopical

Ex librisIts always refreshing from my technical background to discover something that relates to the sciences in the rare book trade. But stumbling on this story in the Boing Boing directory provided some very refreshing reading. And the collection of images is beautiful in itself.

The article is a lengthy diatribe on the bookplates that have graced books and managed to somehow have some vague connection with microscopy , whether by featured imagery or by the tenuous link being ownership by a recognised microscopist. While the whole work is pretty lengthy, the imagery is great and I managed to learn a whole load about bookplate collecting, as well as a little about microscopy and bookplate design.

If you have a little time in your day, certainly pay this site a visit.

July 26, 2006 at 3:58 pm Leave a comment

A wonderful book collecting story

Things have been really slow at the shop lately, and I’ve just been doing some routine maintenance and sorting out a few odds-and-ends that I haven’t got around to in a while. So I haven’t really got that much news to post here at the moment. Or at least, very little news that would be of interest to any readers of this blog. So instead, I’m just going to link to the most wonderful story about book collecting that I’ve read in a while.

A book collector buys a book from India for $20, and discovers his own personal goldmine!

July 24, 2006 at 2:30 pm 2 comments

The algebra of cataloguing

For techies like myself, the booktrade can sometimes seem a weird and wonderful place. But today I read this little article on a mailing list and had to laugh. Booksellers often look at my code with complete incomprehension, or ask me to describe something and get all glassy eyed as soon as I mention words like ‘variable’ or ‘array’. But we are not so far apart, us technical folk and them bookdealer types. I guess its all a matter of jargon and shorthand and knowing your field. A book description that includes the following:

4o: π2 a-c4 d8 B-L4 M2, 2A2 B4 (±B1) C-L4 M4 (±M2.3) N-T4 V2, 3A2 B-G4 H4 (±H4) I-S4 T4 (T2+χ2) V2 X2 [$2 signed (+2M3, 3H3, 3H4; -a1, B1, 2B1, 3B1)]
somehow seems more complex than a bit of code that says:

for book in list_of_books:
print book

Amazing how the human mind can just focus in on whatever it wants to and then refuse to comprehend something else.

July 14, 2006 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

Maggs deals Beckett

Once again, I’m going to sing the praises of RSS. Without my RSS feeds, I probably wouldn’t know much about what was going on in the world. This morning’s feed brought in a notice that Maggs has just gotten involved in a huge sale of Samuel Beckett’s works. I only really picked up on this because I’m personally a fan of modern fiction and quite like Samuel Beckett’s plays.

Anyway, the story goes that a huge collection of Beckett titles are being sold by relatives of the late Alan Clodd. The autographed and inscribed collection is being put on the market at £250,000. The sale is being facilitated by Maggs. Nice going!

The article is covered in the Telegraph.

July 11, 2006 at 3:19 pm Leave a comment

Google is broken

Recently I posted about issues I was having with Google and search ranking for our website. I was glad to discover this posting in my RSS aggregator this morning: Google is Broken. The posting points out how bad google’s relevance has become when returning search results. Indeed, Yahoo, MSN and Ask are all returning results with much greater relevance than Google is. Part of the problem is that Google is compromising their results in an attempt to combat spam. However, there are a number of side notes here. To begin with, Google’s techniques for determining spam don’t always make sense in terms of web development and design. For instance, Google particularly looks for hidden text or cloaking techniques used on pages. However, sites developed with a strong inclination toward using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to keep moving with current web standards are often scored down because they have to make use of these techniques if they want to make the site usable for all visitors. For instance, many of the sites that I create have a paragraph of text hidden by CSS compliant browsers, just to notify users of non-css-compliant browsers that the layout or design may be suffering as a result of their browser. I also hide certain things like <hr/> tags to help separate the layout for text based browsers (I’m a frequent user of lynx/elinks, and like to prettify things accordingly). Hidden text in the form of comments in the HTML is also useful for debugging purposes, or just as notes to other techie people who may want to understand something about how you’ve done something on your site. I’m a great believer in sharing, so to discover that Google treats this sort of behaviour as something negative really gets my back up.

Another intriguing approach by Google is to score down sites that make use of cross-linking techniques to improve their web traffic. This is a lot closer to what one might consider a spam technique. However, Google loses its credibility on this argument on the grounds that it sells its own marketing tool in the form of Adsense. Basically, Google is saying: its okay if you spam websites through us, but we’ll score you down if you use anybody else. Or if you choose to simply swap links because you think that sharing links is cool. As a result, your own marketing techniques are hampered because Google decides how you are allowed to market your site. Its frustrating to think that the design of a search engine is impacting how developers and marketeers are able to work. If Google had never placed so much emphasis on cross-linking in its approach to search relevance, the problem would never have come into existence.

All in all, I must admit that I’m disappointed with Google lately. Many of the results I get are not relevant to my queries and certainly since I started this blog it seems that there is nothing I can do to get this site indexed. Yahoo, happily complied months ago. Much against my tech-instinct, I’ve finally succumbed and changed my default search engine in Firefox to Yahoo. I hope one day Google slows down on all of its side projects and gets back to what it once did really well.

July 4, 2006 at 11:55 am 1 comment

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