My main project in December was Mismi – a service that compares the total price of items from Amazon.com and from Amazon.co.uk for Norwegians. The solution is built on top of the Zend_Service_Amazon class (with a few extensions of my own).
The reasoning behind making the service is that there are several factors that are in play when deciding whether to order a product from the US or from the UK: the exchange rate for GBP and USD, the shipping cost, the delivery situation for the item and whether the item is sold in the store at all.
The user enters a list of the URLs to the products they’re considering purchasing from an Amazon-store, press submit and get a list back of which items are in stock, where the item is the cheapest and what the total sum of an order placed at the store would be. In addition I added a alpha stage feature just before Christmas which will also tell you the “optimum” set of items for the orders – “order item 1,4,7,9 from .com, item 2,3,5,6,8 from .co.uk”. This took quite a bit of hacking – you also have to consider the initial price of shipping, shipping for each item and other fun things.
Feel free to play with it over at mismi.e-mats.org. It’s in Norwegian, but it should be easy to understand anyhow with the description above.
Brian K. Jones has a neat list of things to look for when buying a new book. To sum it up in a few points:
- Give Any New Version 6 Months Before Buying a Book About It.
- Take reviews with several grains of salt
- Look for “Timeless Tomes”
- Look at the Copyright Date
- Be Wary of Growth in Second Editions
These are all good points, but I’d like to add a few rules of my own that help decide which books that end up in my reading queue:
- If you’re happy with the book you’re currently reading, use Amazon’s suggestion system to find more about the same subject. This has worked surprisingly well (and I’m sure Amazon is happy about that..) for me, but limit yourself to one additonal book this way.
- While reading a good book, if the author mentions another book that he found interesting or that provided insight into the content you’re now reading, add it to your wishlist. Good authors usually suggest good and insightful books.
- To further extend the point of “Look at the copyright date”; use this date to find potential “Timeless Tomes”. If a book were first published in the 1970s or 1980s and is in it’s 21st print now, I’ll personally guarantee that the book is worth reading. It might not be about a subject that you’re interested in, but it might give you new insights or a better background in something you never would have read otherwise.
- Use your wishlist on Amazon to keep track of interesting books that you stumble across. This is particularily useful for those of us who live in non-native Amazon locations, so that we’re able to combine shipping for items. I’ll never order a single book, so if I forget to add it to my wishlist, I will probably never remember it when I actually order books. Use it.
- Check out the blog of the author if you’re able to (and the author actually have a blog). Also, if a blog that you follow on a daily basis suggests a book, it’s probably worth getting.
- If you’re out travelling, buy a cheap, simple paperback book about a subject that you’re unfamiliar with. Try to get something a bit populistic (not too academic), as it will make the introduction to the subject easier and is more suitable for reading under noisy conditions. Keep it cheap, so that if you’re unhappy with the book, you can just donate it to another traveller or a local book donation program.