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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Productive Day

I am a digital pack rat. I horde all things digital on my PC. When I shop for a new laptop (I swore off desktops around 2002 or so after despairing of the myriad wires and other connections a disktop sprouts and the difficulty of moving them around and what not), my main criterion is the size of the hard drive. And usually, my laptop has the largest laptop hard drive available at the time I buy it. The only way I am able to afford the laptop is I really don't care about the CPU speed or the graphics capabilities and other peripheral aspects of the laptop's specifications.

So, what do I horde? I horde software. The installation executable for every piece of software that is installed on my PC is stored in a folder on my hard drive (called, aptly enough, "Essential Software"). This is probably a good kind of hording. I do keep this folder well-maintained by deleting older versions and replacing them with newer versions. And if I don't like a piece of software and I uninstall it from my PC, it is deleted from this folder as well.

I also horde podcasts, movie clips, interesting graphics I come across, documents and powerpoint slide-shows that do the rounds of the internet and land up in my email inbox, etc. All this hording makes for not only a full hard drive, but also some disorientation in terms of what is there and where it is. I try to keep things organized as possible, but sometimes, things just get out of hand.

One of the things I collect, and which I intend to put to good use eventually, is ebooks. Most of the ebooks I collect come off the internet, from various sites. Some of the mentionable ones are Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org), Wowio (www.wowio.com), planet PDF (www.planetpdf.com), etc. Believe me, there are a lot more unmentionable ones than mentionable ones, though! Over the years, I have become reasonably good at locating interesting sources for ebooks and I take full advantage of them. But, my computer is now bogged down under more than a few thousand ebooks.

So, I started a new project about 2 or 3 months back: I created an access database for cataloging and organizing the collection. Initially, I scoured the web for suitable software to do it. It was an interesting search. Many elibrary softwares did not deal very well with ebooks. In fact, many still don't. I tried ekitaab and alfa ebooks manager. Then giveaway of the day (www.giveawayoftheday.com) gave away a well-regarded ebooks manager the other day and I grabbed it immediately. It was called All My Books by Bolide Software.

I hacked up a crude script to get most of the ebook files I had on hand into the software. The problem is that getting the filenames into the software is only the beginning. You then have to either enter other details of the books by hand (authors, ISBN's, etc.) or have the software find these things off the internet automatically to update the database. The software had a facility to query Amazon.com for details once you entered the approximate title of the book, and this querying worked reasonably well (except it was still time-consuming because the query usually returned several dozen matches and I had to wade through the list to pick the one corresponding to this book. If you pick the wrong choice, the ISBN, author and other information ended up wrong and useless).

The problem with giveawayoftheday software is that you are not entitled to updates. And All My Books needed an update. Basically, the amazon.com query functionality simply stopped working one fine day. Probably because the return information from Amazon.com had been changed in terms of content or format. In any case, it was now either enter the information by hand or just live without the information. The latter was not an option as far as I was concerned. And the former had a problem: All My Books did not allow me to open the book for reading from inside their software so that I could get the information off the ebook and put it into the software. The software was designed for physical libraries and not really for an ebook library.

So, I decided that that was not the way to go. I decided to create my own database from scratch with the functionality I wanted. I am self-taught in MS Access and consider myself reasonably good at using its capabilities to the full extent possible (forms, reports, VBA, SQL, etc.). Most of my learning was done when I designed my travelogue database and I carried the learnings over to this project. The results were not bad at all. I have not mastered accessing the web through access and so, I left out the automatic querying of a site like Amazon.com for book information. Instead, I enter each book into the database, open it up as if for reading and copy and paste information out of it into the database (ISBN's, authors, etc.). I also designed the database so that I could search on several fields and parse SQL-like matching criteria.

The next project was to enter my ebook collection into the database. This actually turned out to much slower than I expected and I never seemed to be able to get past about 20 to 30 books a day. Obviously, I was being lazy. It only takes 2 to 4 minutes to get a book fully entered into the database with all its information, so in a good day, I should be able to get about 100 books in if I put my mind to it. I just wasn't doing it.

Yesterday, I was taking a walk back home from the library and I was ruminating about my ebook collection. I decided that I had to get cracking and set myself a goal of getting my entire collection into the database by the end of the year. It is somewhat ambitious, but I think it is entirely doable. Acting on that new-found motivation, I managed to enter almost 100 books into the database today and brought my total up to 1,400. So, that is 1,400 down, about 5,000 to go. I am excited and hope to give my goal a good run for its money even if it ultimately turns out not to be attainable.

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