Archive for October, 2006

Antarctica and rare exploration books up for auction

The Antarctic Library of the late Raymond J Adie, (1925-2006), the scientist and explorer who dedicated his life to Antarctica, will be auctioned at Cheffins Auctioneers in Cambridge on Thursday 26th October. The library includes a collection of fine art and prints (few of which deal directly with the Antarctic per se, but do capture Adie’s interest in travel and exploration), some maps and many rare and collectable books. The complete catalogue is available here. And a nicely written article discussing the sale and a bit about Raymond Adie’s life can be found in this article at the Cambridge Evening News.

October 24, 2006 at 5:01 pm Leave a comment

Cataloguing requirements for Booksellers

The developer of Beanbag, and a friend of his, have both posted comments on my blog entry on this cataloguing application. Both of them are interested in the general requirements that booksellers have for their cataloguing applications. This is a positive step forward for two reasons. Firstly, they both claim to be open source developers, which means that if this application gets off the ground it can be modified by booksellers as they see fit. Secondly, if they’re interested in modifying their application to meet bookseller requirements, we could see another worthy piece of software hitting the industry.

In response to their request for requirements, I can provide some very brief remarks that are general enough to apply to most rare bookdealers, but it would be handy if any other readers could add to these in the comments area to encourage more development work in the field. As I’m strapped for time these are the first things that I can think of off the top of my head.

General Requirements:

  • Invoicing – Any bookseller needs this as a facility tied to the cataloguing application, so that for a single sale multiple books in the cataloguing application can be marked as sold (archived) and then added to an invoice which can be issued to the customer and stored for reference.
  • Customer database – This is usually tied to invoicing. Certainly in the rare book trade you get a lot of repeat business and you need to be able to quickly create invoices for particular customers regularly. This is also handy for keeping a “Wants” list so that you can mail customers who have particular wants when relevant new stock comes into the shop.
  • Export facilities – Any cataloguing software for a bookdealer needs to cater for a range of export requirements. Most dealers nowadays upload catalogues of books to various portal sites like ABE, Bibliopoly, Alibris etc. Dealers need to be able to select the fields that they wish to export and the order in which they would like to export them. Usually, this is fine as a delimited text file.
  • Purchase Details – For every book in stock, dealers usually require a purchase history which should include where the book was purchased from, when, and the cost at which the book was purchased.
  • Sales Details – the cataloguing software must include Pricing information etc
  • Shares and Approvals – some dealers partner up to buy books and sell them, as a result, it is useful to provide a facility to mark a book as a Shared item and to include share details. Obviously, this affects Purchase details and Sales details accordingly. In the rare trade, books are frequently sent out for approval before sale. This is similar to a loan, the book is sent to a potential customer for them to decide whether they want it or not. Books that are sent out like this need to be marked as out on approval, and it would be useful to have a reporting/reminder facility to follow up on books that are currently in this state.
  • Multiple images – with rare books, a pretty generic picture of the cover doesn’t help much. Dealers need to be able to take multiple images of a book and store these to indicate actual condition of the stock.
  • Catalogues – Nearly all dealers release regular catalogues of selected stock. The books database needs to facilitate groupings of stock that can be stored and exported in a variety of formats for use to build print or web catalogues of items of interest.

The above list is pretty random and eclectic, if you’re really serious about developing for the rare trade try and get your hands on some of the other software out there, or simply browse a couple of the rare book dealer websites to get an idea of how they stock their items and the sorts of facilities that they’re likely to require.

October 20, 2006 at 11:02 am 4 comments

Sotherans Launches A New Website

Sotheran’s New SiteSotherans has just launched their new website. The new look is clean and fresh, and the interface is very friendly. Overall, the site looks a whole lot better than its predecessor and is now updated on a regular basis with new stock.

Regular stock updates to this website make a huge change. The previous site had stock items dating from 2002, making it impossible to determine what Sotherans actually had on their shelves.

Notably, the search engine is also a massive improvement on what was available before, and allows you to search for either books or prints. Unfortunately, it doesn’t facilitate any boolean style searches, so searching for something like “Africa OR India” will search for items that contain the words “Africa” and “or” and “India” in the description. Whereas, a search like “Africa India” will get more results, because it isn’t searching for the OR. And if looking for books on either topic, you’ll do better to search for “Africa” and “India” as separate queries. Still, building a search engine component on a website can become a radically sticky task when you start taking all of these possibilities into account. Frequently web developers just make a decision as to what the average person means when they type in a query.

Moving on from search, I must commend Sotherans on the use of imagery across the site. Many of the books are photographed, and as far as I can tell, all of the prints online have images provided. Not only does this make the site look attractive, but it also gives buyers a good idea of the condition of the stock.

While Sotherans has not provided an online shopping cart, there is an option to enquire about any particular book, which takes you to a simple email form, which includes the stock detail of the book that you are interested in when it mails the relevant department.

Catalogues are listed not as PDF files, but as listings of stock online, so you can browse through each item. This presumably frees up Sotherans to release online-only catalogues, which will be a very useful facility in the long run. However, I will make a guess that items in their catalogues are exactly the same as items in their stock database. This means that they will battle to provide special pricing for items bought from their catalogues. Nonetheless, these issues could be easily fixed with a few extra fields in their online database.

All in all, I’m impressed with the new look and feel. And I like the site. Now, all I need to see is an RSS feed! 😉

One last comment though, when I received an email from Sotherans anouncing the launch of their new site, I opened my browser only to discover that I was still seeing the old site. I spoke to a contact at Sotherans about the issue and we determined that the problem was a DNS propogation issue. Apparently a number of customers are experiencing similar problems. The reason for this is not clear, however the new Sotherans website is hosted on a different webserver. As a result, some DNS changes were made to point the domain name (that’s http://www.sotherans.co.uk)  to the IP address of the new server (62.121.17.128). For some reason or other, some name servers have not updated to reflect the change and some people are being directed to the old server. I got around this by editing my /etc/hosts file temporarily so that I could view the site. Sotherans is meanwhile investigating the issue with their domain registrar and it will hopefully be resolved in the next day or so. If you click through to the Sotherans website and it doesn’t look like the screenshot above, you’re probably experiencing this issue. Give it a day or so and try again, and hopefully the problem will have disappeared.

October 20, 2006 at 10:23 am Leave a comment

Beanbag Book Cataloguing

A recent visitor to my blog, left a comment under my review of the well known Tellico software for Linux. Ankur Gupta is a talented developer in India who has been working on his own book cataloguing software called Beanbag. On the whole, his base application looks fairly promising for general collectors but its strengths offer little to the rare book trade. From the post on his own blog, he has gone to tremendous effort to tie into external sources such as Amazon to assist in cataloguing items. That said, much of the information provided by the Amazon service applies to more general collections than rare book collections. And with this in mind, the software will not fly among rare book collectors.

However, there are a number of great features that he seems to  have implemented and to see that the application has been developed in QT4, certainly brings a warm glow to my techie heart. Unfortunately, without a download link for the source code, or even a binary, it is very difficult to provide a fair review of his software.

Nonetheless, I would like to offer him lots of encouragement. I would also suggest that he could probably offer a lot to the Tellico project if he really did want to pursue any open-source development. I know that Tellico is working on a QT4 version of their application at the moment and that they’re considering providing a SQL backend to the product.  I’m sure they could do with the development expertise that Ankur seems to have on offer. If Tellico could move to a SQL backend, I believe that it would instantly gain some credibility for use among rare book dealers. And with a QT4 backend, I don’t believe that it would be all that difficult to port to other operating systems.

October 17, 2006 at 3:23 pm 2 comments

Selecting the right AntiVirus

There are a so many antivirus suites out there nowadays that it is getting harder and harder to select the right option. And of course, there is suddenly a spate of freeware (for personal use) options available online, so what works and how well?

In our organisation, we had been using Symantec’s Corporate Edition AntiVirus suite for a number of years. On one hand, it provided us with an Antivirus Administration console that allowed us to perform basic antivirus tasks from a central location. It was also one of those really well known industry standards. On the other hand, any user of any of Symantec’s computer protection software will be able to tell you how resource hungry this software is. The average workstation slows down noticeably the moment you install the software. And forever after you wish that you had done a little more research when you selected your antivirus software.

So, come renewal time, we did a huge hunt around the internet to try out a few alternatives. Our first option was to try out F-Secure. Our motivation for this was that this software also had a management console, and the server and console system could be run under Linux (which is always a huge plus in my books). Sadly, although the client was significantly better than Symantec’s offering, it didn’t always behave in the way that we expected using the management console. Often it reported erroneously that it had not been updated, even though we could see the updates taking place and the files on the client side were changing timestamp. But the real turning point was on the server side. The server software seemed to use an inordinate amount of CPU power and relatively huge chunks of system memory to run. With only one client connecting, we were concerned that this could potentially escalate on a larger network of computers. In the end, although the software had many of the features that we were looking for, and seemed to be a step up from Symantec Antivirus, we decided to try out some other options.

Most of the other software out there doesn’t give you a management console, so we decided to review our requirement for this and decide how important it was. To be fair, our organisation is not large enough to warrant the use of a management console. Generally our users are good enough to notify us directly of any issues with their computers or of any error messages that appear on screen. We can handle manual installs fairly easily. And we don’t really feel the need to dedicate a Windows PC to acting as an antivirus server. So, with that out of the way, a realm of antivirus options opened up to us.

Many online reviews and comparison charts cut us down to reviewing the following options:

  • E-trust (by Computer Associates)
  • AVG Professional
  • Avast Professional
  • Kaspersky Antivirus

While E-Trust was highly recommended to us, it seems that there are no corporate licencing bundles available on their home page. Each licence (priced at $49) can be extended to cover up to three workstations. Overall, our calculations priced this software as a little beyond our budget to install across our entire organisation. We also found relatively few online reviews to encourage us in this direction and decided to give it a skip. However, apparently the Windows XP antivirus detection tool recommends E-Trust in its suggested software list, and I’ve heard that you’re capable of downloading a one year free trial from Computer Associates. So for many home users, this is not a bad option.

I’ve used Grisoft’s AVG Personal Edition on a number of friends home PC’s and have generally been fairly impressed with it. It is not incredibly resource hungry. I have seen it catch out the odd virus. And its free for non-commercial use. Which makes Grisoft one of those companies that should be sainted for their contribution to ridding home computers of the horrible stuff that keeps propogating around the Internet. So I had high-hopes for their professional software. We decided to have a look at AVG Anti-Malware, because it deals with a bit more than just your average antivirus requirements. Bundled licencing only covered up to 5 computers at a time, however with a 2 year subscription discount, at this rate we would only pay $29 per PC. That costs significantly less than the other options that we had looked at so far. Generally the software seems to run pretty well, but clearly with the added overhead of its spyware detection features it is a little more resource hungry.

In the free personal edition antivirus market there is also the option of Avast! Antivirus. Avast has a lot of good reviews out there on the net, and definitely seems to be one of the favourite free options for home users. That said, we were somewhat disappointed after the install to discover an untidy interface that hardly seemed intuitive to us. To be fair, Avast can be skinned. Which means that you can download a variety of alternative looking interfaces to the software. But herein lies my objection to using this software at a corporate level. We aren’t looking for a pretty antivirus that can be customised to match your wallpaper! We’re after software that works and does so with minimal overhead. Avast doesn’t seem the obvious choice in this arena. Looking at the volume licencing, we would be paying around $25 per PC for 2 year’s support. So its a bit cheaper than AVG’s offering. However, you buy licences per PC, which means that for each additional PC you bring into your network you’re going to have to buy another licence. This is a pain in the ass from my point of view, I would far rather buy into a volume bundle that allows us to use the software on as many machines as we like, as long as that number does not exceed a certain point. So, perhaps with inadequate review, we decided against using Avast! Nonetheless, for the home user, it seems like a pretty good option and its current userbase seems overwhelmingly happy with it.

Finally, we tried Kaspersky. This software has endorsements all over the web for its low system overhead and for the strength of its antivirus detection. The trial version installed and updated quickly. We decided to perform a full system scan which took an age to complete. Reading around on the Net, you should only have to do this once, and thereafter you can set Kaspersky to only scan new and modified files. This significantly minimises the amount of work that the application is doing and keeps scanning times down. Another cool feature is the option to set preferred places to search for virus updates. In a corporate environment, this is very handy as we can reduce our network traffic significantly by downloading updates once and putting them into a fileshare. Kaspersky also has a range of options for volume licencing, and for the number of licences we’re looking at getting, we’d pay around $29 per PC, so roughly the same as AVG.

On the whole, we’re thinking of going with Kaspersky based on the overall response from actual users across the web. It had a neat interface and was pretty unobtrusive as software goes. The pricing is reasonable and we believe it will be a step up for the company.

Of course, if anybody else has any recommendations they would like to make, we would really appreciate your comments.

October 13, 2006 at 2:06 pm 1 comment

Africa’s hidden written tradition

A couple of days ago, the Washington Post released this article on the discovery of 16th-18th century manuscripts in Timbuktu. It seems that the concept of a largely illiterate Africa that handled its intellectual affairs by passing on an oral history, is somewhat misguided. During the 19th century, many African countries hid their documentation from invading colonialists, and much of this documentation is only beginning to re-emerge now. The article goes as far as to suggest that literacy was more common in Mali in the 14th-century than it was in Europe, thanks to the spread of Islam across Africa. The article also mentions a 10th century arabic manuscript written on parchment and currently residing in  a personal library in Mali.

Most exciting is that many of these documents are being scanned and made available online. Have a look at this exhibition to view some of the items. With the recovery of many interesting and rare African manuscripts capturing a slice of history before any major colonisation of Africa byEurope, I believe that in the not-too-distant future we may see a huge interest in Africana that hasn’t really been touched on much before.

October 11, 2006 at 4:07 pm Leave a comment

On forgeries and fakes

In case you haven’t followed the comments on my post about the Abraham Lincoln Assassination Poster, Paul Romaine has been providing some valuable tips on detecting forgeries when purchasing rare stock. Paul mentions that it is important for new buyers to frequent exhibits and book fairs and to socialise with seasoned dealers, who have experience in the trade. He also highlights the value of reading through auction catalogues and frequenting rare book libraries.  Have a read through his comments, as he offers great advice and a neat list of authors who can provide great insight into fakes and forgeries.

October 10, 2006 at 3:40 pm Leave a comment

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