Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Books And What To Do With Them!

Like most people, we've accumulated a fair number of books over the years and, being at a loose end for a few weeks recently while my broken elbow mended, I got to wondering what could be done with them in a technological sort of way, other than buying more of them that is.

The most obvious answer is to investigate e-books but I don't think the technology is there for that yet. Sure, there are loads of e-books out there and loads of them are freely available but I simply don't think very many of us would be happy reading an entire book on a computer or PDA screen. Unless you're trying to learn something, reading is a leisure activity best done in a relaxing setting so until we can get a slim, paperback-sized, low-priced, portable reader with a screen that adjusts for ambient light, I don't think e-books will achieve any great impetus. Electronic paper seems the way to go for the hardware but there are precious few products available as yet and none of them cheap. Amazon's Kindle has just appeared on the US scene but at almost $400, it'll take some serious marketing or a large price drop to make any inroads into the casual reader market.

So, with reading books electronically realistically out of the picture for the moment, that really only leaves a few other options…


I know, making lists of stuff is sad but we've got hundreds of books piling up and it would be useful to know exactly what we've got as it wouldn't be the first time I've bought a book, only to find out that I already had a copy. So, being a fan of Macs and free software, I've been trying out Books, a free, open-source book cataloguing application for Mac OS X.


Books is fairly simple: it lets you catalogue your books into a search-able database and you can easily add books manually, by quick look up on Amazon (by title, author or ISBN), by scanning the ISBN if you have a camera attached or by importing from tab-delimited text file or various other book application formats. Once you've got some data in there, you can add it into the Spotlight index so you can search for a book without having to open the application first.

I quite like Books and, while adding books by letting it fill the data in from Amazon fills in a lot of useful data, the Genres field ends up with useless subject data and the book cover can be missing on older books. That said, it's easy enough to clear the genre and enter something useful and I've managed to find most of the missing book covers with a bit of searching the net.

The export facilities are also pretty useful You can export the book covers to iPhoto, the booklist to your iPod or a tab-delimited text file and the database to PDF or even a web site. Importing and exporting is done via plug-ins so it's a very flexible system. I really liked the idea of being able to export the book list to an iPod or PDA as it'd be handy to be able to check if I already had a book before buying it. You can also keep track of reviews, multiple copies and lending history as well.

On the Windows front, there's Libra, which is free for non-commercial use and can catalogue audio CDs, movies, & games as well as books. Hook up a webcam, and Libra can use it as a barcode scanner too.


You can also use it to track items you've loaned as it'll let you keep a detailed record of each loan and remind you when it's due back. Printing looks pretty good as well and you export your library to web pages, and upload them to a web host to share with friends & family.

The next step up was to an online cataloguing system and I ended using Goodreads as it was free and very easy to use. There are quite a few others out there, LibraryThing being probably the largest and most-established but it's only free for the first 200 books. BookBumps is another free, web-based service and it's fairly new but presents a more iTunes-like interface to manage your library. Then there's sites like Listal and Listphile, which are really more comprehensive online listing engines anot designed specifically for books alone.

You can also build collections in Amazon wish-lists or in Google Book Search but they are far from ideal.


Goodreads is really nice to use. You can add books manually or by searching for it in Goodreads or any of the various Amazon databases by title, author or ISBN. You can also optionally add a rating, a review, the date you read the book, if you have a copy to sell or swap, and which shelves (categories/genres) to put it on. You can also flag the book you're currently reading and those you have still to read, which is useful as I seem to have over 20 still to be read and I've still a load to go through and add.

Members may also be granted librarian status and those can edit the book database to correct errors, add cover images and combine editions, etc. You have to ask for the privilege and I managed to get it so have done a bit of tidying up and correcting as I've been adding. Combining editions is useful for the whole community as it aggregates reviews and statistics into one place.

Goodreads also promotes a social aspect to reading in that you choose to let others see your book collection and profile. You can also add friends by using your Yahoo!, Hotmail, or Gmail address books to invite friends and see which friends are already Goodreads members. You can invite them by e-mail or just search the site to see if they're already on it. Of course, if you're the unfriendly sort, you can keep your profile and bookshelves private.

Selling and Swapping

You could always turn to selling or swapping your books once you've read them. I had a look at selling books on Amazon and ebay a while ago and, while it's easy to do it, it's just not very profitable as postage charges are quite high for books. I've sold loads of DVDs through Amazon as they're relatively cheap to post and hold their price for a while but secondhand books just don't command a very good resale price and there are loads of them listed for 0.01p. The only way to make any money selling at that level is to skimp on the postage but even that's difficult as they are usually classed as packets rather than letters. In my opinion, it's just not worth the bother of time spent packaging and posting.


I'm tempted by the swapping angle as there are a few sites out there promoting the free swapping of books. The only costs are the postage but I think the benefits outweigh even those. The best site I can see for this with a decent number of books listed and reasonable UK presence is BookMooch, which is run by John Buckman, who also designed and wrote Lyris ListManager, a well-respected commercial list server suite.

What you do is publish a list of titles you'd be willing to swap and, for each one listed, you get 0.1 points. Requesting a book costs 1 point (2 if it's not from your own country) and each book you send gets you 1 point (3 if you have to post it overseas). All of that means that you need to list at least 10 books to be able to start the ball rolling. You even get 0.1 point for acknowledging receipt of a mooched book.

If you want a particular book, then you add it to your wishlist and the system automatically sends out requests to matching bookholders if you have enough points to cover the transaction. Like other social sites, users can leave feedback on book senders so the better your feedback, the more likely you are to receive your books of choice. If you amass a surplus of points, then you can donate them to charity so they can benefit from getting free books too, although they only list US based ones at the moment.

I'm not entirely sure if the economics are sound as you may well be cheaper just buying second-hand books from ebay or Amazon, etc. but you'll still end up with a house full of books and won't have that warm-hearted feeling of having given something away and made someone else happy. I think I'll give it a try and see how it goes. I've got a box full of books I no longer want so maybe someone else will.


This one's a strange concept! Basically you leave (release) your unwanted book in a public place. Leave it on a park bench, at a coffee shop or at a hotel on vacation. Share it with a friend or tuck it onto a bookshelf at the gym -- anywhere it might find a new reader!

With over 600,000 members worldwide, the BookCrossing web site proves that this isn't a passing fad and some take it fairly seriously. Once a book is released, the member logs the details on the web site so others can track it down. Your also encouraged to label the book as being a BookCrossing release to try and increase the membership and so pass the book on once it's been read again. Of course, they'll sell you some very fancy sticky labels to do just that and they're not cheap either but that's clubs for you.

That only leaves giving them away to charity, jumble sales or burning them but the society envisaged in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 isn't with us yet, thank goodness.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - Useful Temporary Online Space

If you've ever needed a bit of online space in order to temporarily store, move or share some files, then take a look at offers you a private place for storing and sharing photos, video, audio, notes, docs, etc. Each space, or drop as they call them, has a 100Mb limit and is accessible only to those whom you tell exactly where to look and you can secure it with a password. When you make a drop you also automatically get an email address of the same name – so you can email in notes and attach files you want to put into a drop if you don't have access to a full web browser.

There's no registration required and they don't even ask for your email. You can create as many drops as you want, and access each at: When you create a drop, all you need to do is give it a name, an optional password and an expiry limit from a choice of 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 6 months or 1 year. Then you can choose whether others can view only, view and add notes or view and add notes and files.

On top of this, it has some useful features like taking the most common formats and converting them to be web friendly. If you send them a photo it will make thumbnails and put them in a gallery; if you send them videos they'll convert them so you can view them online; if you send them audio they'll stream it; if you send them PDFs they'll convert them too and so on. Even that expiry limit can be renewed before the dread date arrives.

Drops aren't indexed so can't be searched and that even includes blocking out web spiders so there's no chance of certain large and overly inquisitive search engines sniffing out your files. If 100Mb seems a bit low remember that you can create as many drops as you want and the developers plan on introducing paid upgrades for anyone wanting more than 100Mb in a single drop.

Related Posts: ADrive - 50Gbs Of Online Storage For Free, Windows Live SkyDrive, Unlimited Online File Storage, Free Online File Storage

Live Documents

Yet another online contender for the online office application crown has emerged in the form of Live Documents. Like Google Docs , Zoho, Ajax13 and ThinkFree it offers online word processing document, spreadsheet and presentation applications.

Live Documents is a free alternative to Microsoft Office, with Flash/Flex based alternatives to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, for those who wish to escape the chains of expensive, corporate software. Live Documents also offers embeddable collaborative tools, and synchronization with your current Office documents and will also work with Open Office for those who have already jumped off the Redmond bandwagon.

If you're already running Microsoft Office 2000, XP or 2003, then there's an optional Live Documents Plug-in/Desktop Client for Windows, which converts Microsoft Office into a web-enabled smart client and provides collaborative capabilities within the context of familiar desktop applications. The desktop client also facilitates offline access to your documents - any changes that you make to a Live Document in offline mode is cached locally and automatically synchronized to the server the next time you go online.

The system is still in private beta testing and logins are, for the moment, by invitation only so you have to register to get an invite.

Related Posts: Xcellery - An Online Spreadsheet Editor, Online Office Tools

Round Those Corners

If you've ever wanted to clip those harsh, righty-angled corners off of your photographs, then RoundPic will do it for you for free.

All you do is upload your image, or give it a URL to get it from, and then choose your size of corner from the 12 possible sizes and the colour of the background (the holes left when the corners are removed). It'll also let you resize the image as well and you can preview your results before downloading.

No registration required, just download the resulting image and you're done. It's a pretty simple, one-horse site but it does what it says it does.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Camtasia Studio and SnagIt For Free

If you're in the market for a screen to movie recorder for Windows and have been looking at such things as Adobe Captivate or Camtasia Studio, then you might not be aware that Techsmith are offering Camtasia Studio 3, an older version, for free.

All you have to do is download the free version and request a registration key. Okay, version 3 doesn't have features such as Auto Pan and Zoom, but it'll do all the stuff the majority of users will ever want and it includes support for PowerPoint presentations. Upgrades to version 5 are being offered at half retail price.

On top of Camtasia Studio, the're also giving away SnagIt, their Windows screen capture utility. Again, it's an older version (7.2.5) and there are a few free Windows screen capture utilities out there already like Gadwin PrintScreen and ScreenHunter but SnagIt has some extra bells and whistles that might appeal to some.

In order to get the free version of SnagIt, just download the demo of version 7.2.5 and request a registration key. Again, upgrades to version 8 are being offered at half retail price.

I really like the idea of these big companies giving away older versions of their products. Most folk can get by with a less feature-rich version but this si a great way to let people try out commercial software for real and they just might upgrade if they have a use for those extras.

Related Posts: Screencasts - The Jing Project, How To Grab Web Page Screenshots, Screen Capture Tools

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ADrive - 50Gbs Of Online Storage For Free

New online storage provider ADrive is offering 50Gbs of free space. It may not be an unlimited service like divShare but 50Gbs is larger than all of the other free space offerings I could find.

Uploading and downloading is restricted to a web-based interface at the moment but the company is planning to offer a desktop client for more controlled and flexible file transfers, backups, etc. They're also gearing up to offer premium accounts and disaster recovery plans for those that need more than 50Gbs or better backup options.

The web-based system won't allow you to select a folder for uploading or downloading so it can be a bit tedious moving lots of content but hopefully, the upcoming desktop client will resolve that issue.

Related Posts: Windows Live SkyDrive, MediaMax Adds Automatic Windows Backup, Unlimited Online File Storage, Free Online File Storage

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fauxto Evolves Into Splashup

Online image editing application Fauxto has been relaunched under a new name - Splashup

Fauxto is or was one of the better online editors and, when I tried it out back in February, I found it pretty easy to use and also quite powerful in functionality. I can't see any reason why the name was changed other than the fact that it might have been a bit confusing for some as Fauxto was supposed to be pronounced "photo". I guess Splashup is a fairly simple and unconfusing alternative.

If you're looking for an online image editor, then Splashup is really worth checking out.

Related Posts: More Online Image And Photo Editors

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Adobe Buzzword Goes Open Beta

If you're looking for an alternative to the likes of Zoho Writer, Google Docs or ThinkFree online word processors, then Adobe have opened up their Buzzword application to public beta.

Buzzword is a Flash-based word processor with all the usual functionality of a word processor. On top of that, it has sharing, collaboration and versioning features and you can import and export documents to and from from Microsoft Word (.doc or Word 2003 XML) and Rich Text Format (.rtf) files.

As with most beta-level products, there are some issues but it's looking pretty useful and hopefully the developers will get those bugs ironed out and some extra features like embedding links or URLs in there too before long.

Related Posts: Online Office Tools

Friday, November 16, 2007

Free Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2008

Microsoft have updated their Office Accounting application to version 2008 and it comes in both Professional "paid for" and an Express "free" version.

The free version has core accounting functions like general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, invoicing, bill payment and online banking as well as integration with Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook so it should do the job for those with basic accounting needs, if you're self-employed or even running a small business.

What it doesn't have are things like inventory, sales and purchase ordering, forecasting, job costing, etc. If you want anything more than basic accounting, then you'll need to ante up some money for the Professional version.

Monday, November 12, 2007


VectorMagic is a free, online service from the Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Laboratory that can convert bitmap or rasterized images to vector images. Since vector images are represented by geometric shapes such as lines, circles and curves, scaling these images to smaller or even larger sizes can be achieved without the usual blurring or pixelation associated with bitmap images.

Vectormagic bird comparisonThe sample comparison above shows the original raster image on the left and the vectorized result on the right. This technology isn't new and both Adobe and Corel have commercial products available to do the job but the Vector Magic team say that their solution is better than either of those.

As you might expect, it works best on somewhat flat images like logos, fonts, scanned cartoon art, etc. but it will work with photographs as well, you just won't get as rounded a result. Still those results do produce useful effects that you might actually like the look of.

Vectormagic poppy comparisonIt'll convert images in JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP and TIFF formats and you can save the converted images in EPS, SVG or PNG formats.