Good books

A first! A noble, generous, and tasteful reader of the Rambles Weblog sent me a book from my Amazon wish list out of the clear blue sky. Now I can no longer complain that this site has never done anything to pay for itself.

And what was the book that arrived magically at my doorstep? It was R.A.C. Parker’s superb “The Second World War,” an everything-you-need-to-know-about-World-War-II-in-one-compact-paperback book. I recommend it without hesitation, particularly if you can get it for free. Read my (brief) review of the book at the Rambles Bookshop, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Paracelsus Rambles Weblog.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time recently playing around with the bookshop page. The backbone of it is an XML list that I manage by hand and then convert with an XSL stylesheet to HTML. The process works very well (although XSL is an oddball language to get used to), but I kept thinking there had to be an easier way than tedious data entry to get the author, title, and images all typed in. I figured someone had to have created a web service for this by now. A quick visit to gave me exactly what I was looking for in about three minutes. I don’t know who Cheeso is, but his book search web service did the trick. I wrote a little MATLAB code to format everything and resize the image, and presto, armed with only the ISBN number, I can generate a nicely formatted XML version of all the relevant book information plus a lovely little thumbnail. This is the first time I saw firsthand how valuable web services are going to be.