Pythonaro blog

22 September 2009


Every once in a while, we get an ironic reminder of how mass-literature is fundamentally formulaic. Cartoonists are especially (but not exclusively) fond of this sort of joke, probably because the nature of their work is often dismissed as "repetitive" and they have to get back at (mostly disingenuous) critics. Or maybe they just like playing the smartass.

It is then customary, on my part, to faithfully print the cartoons in question and then point it out to whoever gets around my desk. Some leave in a troubled state of mind, suddenly faced by the emptiness of a universe they hitherto happily inhabited. A few laugh at the old joke. Some think I'm just weird.

Last May, Aaron Diaz's Dresden Codak gave us the already-legendary 42 essential 3rd-act twists by Harvet Ismuths. Today, David Maliki's Wondermark built the phantasmagoric Electro-Plasmic HydroCephalic Genre-Fiction Generator 2000. They sit perfectly among the other stuff I hang around my pseudo-cubicle, like words by Carlos Williams, Borges and Piñero. Why keeping beauty out of the office, when there is so much of it?

Labels: , , , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 10:08 AM   0 comments links to this post

20 September 2009

"The Web Startup Success Guide" review, and how to tie-in better

Yesterday, I bought Bob Walsh's latest book, The Web Startup Success Guide. It's the only thing I've found in "mainstream" bookshops that seemed really relevant to my current project, and indeed it is.

As "self-help-business" books go, this is a good one: the fluff is kept low (could have done with a few less interviews maybe, especially from bloody Guy Kawasaki -- if you're thinking of starting up and don't know him already, you haven't done your homework), and there's something for everybody, with plenty of practical advice and real tools you can use. A few ones are very US-centric (like, which is a real shame), but that's par for the course in this area.

You can also see that Walsh practices what he preaches, and that's always a good sign. Minutes after I twitted on the subject, he "@replied"; he really monitors social media for marketing purposes as much as he says you should do.

Walsh also couldn't miss the chance to pimp his latest shot at startupping,; after all, he's a good friend of Joel Spolsky, a master of self-publicity. Clearly the book and the site are part of a coordinated marketing effort. Nothing wrong with that: the book is NOT simply a brochure for the site, it's all good content, probably coming from the extensive research Walsh did while building the site as well as his personal experience (which was also enshrined in his previous effort, the famous Micro-ISV: from Vision to Reality). What I've found a bit disappointing was that the effort is missing the very last bit. StartupToDo is due to launch next week, but has been in private beta (invite-only) for a while now. The book was published in July. It would have been cool for readers to get some sort of password, a "backdoor" to the beta program, so they could sign up while they're still fired up from the book. For two months, "faithful" followers were just able to leave an email to be reminded when the real launch would actually happen. I'm lucky as I have to wait just a few days, but in the age of Internet-time and instant gratification, that's still a lot. So, Bob (and whoever goes for the next book/website combo): you should try to increase your conversion rate by making sure that readers can get in straight away.

UPDATE: is now live, as Bob correctly points out below. I'm "toyg" on the site, feel free to "friend me"! I've wandered a bit around the site already... lots of good info, recommendations and links which I'm still trying to get my head around. I'll post a better review later.

And now, back to plotting my startup...

Labels: , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 10:29 PM   1 comments links to this post

06 September 2008

Goodreads Collapse Folders

This is yet another greasemonkey script for Goodreads, this time to deal with a minor annoyance.

A GR group (basically a forum) can have "folders" of topics (basically different areas/sub-forums). When you look up a group, you will get a list of all folders, with the last 4 discussions for each folder; on a group with dozens of folders (e.g. the SciFi and Fantasy Book Club) it means you might have to scroll quite a bit to get the (small) link to the folder you're interested in.

So this script will make the folders "expandable", and collapse them by default if they are more than a certain amount (by default 2, but you can customize this threshold). Preview:

Labels: , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 6:07 AM   0 comments links to this post

02 September 2008

Goodreads Exploder

Another little script for fellow GoodReaders: GoodReads Exploder will add a link to "Explode" all the books on the shelf in different tabs. It saves having to CTRL-click on each book or losing the original shelf page while you browse the books.

Since this might be a bit dangerous with lots of books, if the shelf contains more than 10 books, the script will warn you and give you the option to cancel the operation before your browser "melts". You can change the limit to suit your machine.

This script uses several of the most recent Greasemonkey features (GM_openInTab, getValue, setValue...). It was a lot of fun to write, Greasemonkey really is a fabulous toolkit; the FF Extensions framework is, in comparison, very complicate and burdensome (which I guess is the trade-off for all the power they give developers).

Labels: , , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 11:26 AM   0 comments links to this post

01 September 2008

Amazon-to-Goodreads Greasemonkey script

This is a little Greasemonkey script that will add a link to Amazon item pages to see the reviews on Goodreads (if the book is available there). The result will look like this:

You can download it from here: Amazon-to-Goodreads Greasemonkey script 2.0. Note that you will need to install Greasemonkey first, if you haven't already.
I also put the script on as well.

Labels: , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 7:46 AM   1 comments links to this post

30 August 2008


I'm the top UK-based GoodReads librarian in August 2008:

Labels: , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 9:58 PM   1 comments links to this post

26 August 2008

GrEstimator - the web version

I finally bit the bullet and put online an interactive version of my GrEstimator script (which will soon see a new release, by the way).

The GrEstimator Web Service is currently very basic. You provide an email, a GoodReads ID and a shelf (or tag) you want to estimate, and the system will email the result (expressed in a currency of your choice, calculated with exchange rates from WebserviceX's Currency Converter).

The tool is beta ("almost alpha" really), so be gentle and let me know if it dies on you :)

Known issues:

  • you have to provide a numerical GoodReads ID, which is the one appearing at the end of the URL when you look up a user (e.g. ""). I've asked to be authorized to look up an ID by providing an email, and I'm waiting for the response; once I'm allowed, you'll be able to just provide the email you use with GR.
  • you cannot estimate more than 200 books on a shelf; this is a limitation of the GoodReads API.
  • books not listed on Amazon will be ignored.
  • it currently spawns a thread for each estimate. I have to implement a system of queues to limit the amount of threads running at any given time, just in (the remote) case the service becomes popular.
  • you cannot choose the output currency, it's USD only. This will be fixed soon with a new option. Fixed.
  • the result is based on average prices. I'll soon add an option to say if you want that or rather the maximum potential price (which really tends to be funny). Fixed.
  • the service does go through all the Amazon locales (.com,, .de, .fr, .ca, .jp in this order) but only if item lookup fails on the previous locale. This means that, if I find a book on .com marked as unavailable, I will still consider it as "found" and won't repeat the lookup on a different locale. I actually just realized this as I was writing the post, it will be fixed very soon. Fixed.
Also on my TODO list:
  • producing a "blog badge".
  • pulling prices from somewhere else than Amazon.
  • an "update" feature of some sort would be nice.

Labels: , , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 9:49 AM   0 comments links to this post

24 August 2008

Bookmarklet to search Stockport Library (LibraryLookup)

I've always been a fan of the LibraryLookup project; it's a simple tool that, given an address containing a ISBN (e.g. an Amazon page), it will search your local library catalogue so that you can see if the book is available.

Unfortunately, the Bookmarklet Generator option for Talis-based systems doesn't work for my local library in Stockport (UK), so I googled a bit and found this post on a Talis blog, which gave me the correct syntax.

So, here's the resulting bookmarklet (drag and drop the link on your bookmark toolbar, check this link if you don't know how to): Stockport Library.

Labels: , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 7:21 AM   0 comments links to this post

21 August 2008

How much is your bookshelf worth?

Just for fun, I wrote a little python script that will pull a feed of books from GoodReads and calculate their total worth according to Amazon.


The script allows for shelf-specific filtering and supports different Amazon locales, with output configurable to be in any currency. Due to a limitation in the GoodReads API, it will estimate only the first 200 books.

You can see it in action using the web-based version

Download: GR_Estimator 1.1

  • Release 1.1
    • Added support for multiple currencies
    • fixed a few bugs
  • Release 1.0
    • Initial release

Labels: , , , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 6:40 PM   0 comments links to this post

19 August 2008

A lil' script

Since my itch is now scratched, I might as well make the code available: GenBooks 1.0 is the little script I used to generate my list of books by pulling my "favourites" shelf on GoodReads. It works with python templates and even embeds your Amazon Associate ID. Requires Python 2.5 (because it uses the new ETree module) and the Python Imaging Library 1.1.x. There is no license, it's all public domain. Have fun.

Labels: , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 8:13 PM   4 comments links to this post

My favourite books...

... are now listed here. I generated the list while playing around with the GoodReads API and the Python Imaging Library. I'm trying to think of something else to build with the GR API... any suggestions?

Labels: , , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 4:26 PM   0 comments links to this post

16 August 2008

Tag your f***ing books!

After a few days wandering around "literary" social-networking sites, I'm feeling a bit frustrated by how people interpret their participation in a very solipsistic way. Listing your own books is half the fun, I get it, but certainly the other half is hooking up with other like-minded bookworm geeks; you should put in a little effort to make your shelf accessible to them. Why then few can be bothered to tag their books? Without tags, I'm left to dig through hundreds of items I don't care about, whereas even a little classification (like separating novels and non-fiction, or fantasy and contemporary) would go a long way to help me define that you like the same sort of harrypotterish works I (might or might not) enjoy.

So please, if you are serious about this sort of sites, try to tag your books, even a little bit. Splitting your shelf in groups containing less than 100 items would already be enough, especially if your collection contains 200+ editions of books blatantly plagiarizing JRR Tolkien.

Labels: , , , , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 5:54 PM   0 comments links to this post

The uncommon reader

The Uncommon Reader One of the best short stories I've read in the last few years, The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett is an entertaining parable on the pros and cons of being a citizen of the "republic of letters", explored through the eyes of the modern monarch by definition, Elizabeth II, the Queen of England. What is "the act of reading"? Is it purely selfish? Does it really improve one's life? How would it affect a person, especially one who is the very embodiment of life and action of an entire country? Is the act of writing a necessary consequence? This little page-turner will entertain and engage even the casual reader, and would be perfectly suited for a couple of hours to spare between opening a swimming-bath and having luncheon with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Labels: ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 5:38 PM   0 comments links to this post

14 August 2008

"Which social-literary networking site should I choose?"

After a few days wasted switching between various sites, I have to pick one (or two, max) and stick with it, so I tried to determine which one had more chances to survive in the long run.

Data from seems to say that GoodReads is winning the battle on literary social networking.

Librarything, despite a huge head-start (years), seems to be in decline, even though attention data suggests that the remaining members spend a bit more time on the site than the average GR member.

Note how aNobii seems to be such a minor player, even though it's the dominant application in Italy and probably lists more books than its competitors; I wonder if Compete's data is skewed towards US/UK visitors. It has to be said that aNobii is showing more velocity though, so it will be interesting to see how things fare in a few months.

Shelfari is also in the mix, still below Librarything but growing fast. The site is very well presented, but I hated that it used Yet Another Format to import books (apparently, more oriented to listing the condition of your books, which I guess has to be expected from a site backed by ABEbooks), and I couldn't be bothered to try it.

Labels: , , , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 8:44 AM   2 comments links to this post


Shelfari: "If you exported your file from another site and Shelfari failed to import your library and if the file has a different extension than .txt, please change the file extension to .txt."

... because we are too lazy to do it for you.

Labels: , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 8:19 AM   0 comments links to this post

This should have been a review of LibraryThing...

... but I discovered that the site will only allow "free" accounts to enter 200 books, which is peanuts. Unsubscribed.

Labels: , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 7:30 AM   0 comments links to this post

12 August 2008

Amazon should buy aNobii and let people use their Associate ID

My wishlist is growing exponentially since I started browsing my friends' pages on aNobii. It works better than the usual "spookily accurate" recommendation systems you find on shopping sites, because your friends' ratings carry much more weight than the simple act of buying an object (which is over-rated by bookshops, since they often don't have actual feedback).

I guess aNobii tries to make its money acting as referral from those same bookshops, I wonder how much they actually make. It would be really powerful if they allowed people to have their own referral ID embedded in "buy" links, so that I make money if my friend buys a book I recommended. I guess that, for this to really happen, Amazon should buy out aNobii (a small Hong Kong startup, from what I understand) and possibly rewrite it from scratch, but it would be a fantastic move.

Labels: , , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 11:37 AM   1 comments links to this post

28 August 2007

Unfocused + unsolicited reviews of popcult items

That's what I feel right now. Spent three days pretty much doing fuck all, fixing the odd thing on the new home server and that's it. I have a horrible queue of books to read, but didn't feel really compelled to touch any of that. I have at least two projects to work on, but I wasted much of the time allocated to those.

We watched a couple of weird movies (which were the only ones mildly interesting at our local Blockbuster). Probably the weirdest was "Frozen Land", a Finnish flick on chaos theory, human depression, and the "interconnectedness of it all". Finnish movies are always so bare, they probably get it from their climate... Or maybe these movies are the only ones sold abroad, and as such they reinforce stereotypical images of "cool Helsinki", this "frozen land" of desperation, drugs, technology and strange sunlight. Suomi is extremely weird to hear, very odd in the European landscape, only vaguely Slavic... Should I ever need a language for talking whales, I'd use that.

Also seen "The Darwin Awards", a quick-buck-job for everyone involved (including Winona Ryder and Joseph Fiennes). "Inspired" by, the plot is an excuse to link together some of the freakiest (real) accidents described on the site. Production is TV-like and direction is simply bad. You can really see the Hollywood team, meeting over a (vegetarian) meal, banging together the movie... "ok, this one is basically like Jackass, but we wanna sell it to the Ryder crowd too which is a bunch of Gen-Xers with degrees... we need a "higher" subplot here, what about... a serial killer? maybe a literate serial killer?" "Yeah, that's clever! He could quote poets... like, beat poets!" "But we also wanna make it like this stuff if really real, or we lose the Jackass crowd... what if all was kind-of-filmed-on-super-8-sorta-thing?" "Yeah, cool!"... So Winona can pay the rent and Ferlinghetti can pay for the drugs (or the other way round), and you can have the odd laugh here and there while waiting for Joe Fiennes to get laid (which he'll invariably do, I guess his agent put it in the contract as usual) and go away. Did I say this caters to the Jackass crowd? It even has the unavoidable Metallica guest appearance, full of shit as they usually are.

I'm currently in the middle of The Third Policeman, surreal book recently rediscovered thanks to random product placement on Lost. Better books than BMWs, I guess. Review when I'm done.
( And since we are on product placement, the last Bond movie was a very stylish 20-minute-long film followed by an hour of adverts. What a waste. )

The Third Policeman
by Flann O'Brien

Read more about this title...

I've finished the first book from the Earthsea tetralogy (or "quartet", as they put it). I hadn't read fantasy for a looooong time, and this book reminded me why. The careful use of epic language never falls in common traps and avoids boring down the reader in useless world-building details... but it left me with a sense of "so what" which didn't really push me to read the following books. Enjoyable distraction, probably very good for teenagers (no disrespect intended here).

The Earthsea Quartet
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Read more about this title...

So many other books on the shelf... "From the Gracchi to Nero" is a lovely introduction to Roman history; it reminds me at every page of how similar they were to us, how they really built the foundations on which every "democracy" (i.e. "extended oligarchy") now runs. We went from daggers in the dark to sex scandals, but the concepts are the same, the political questions are still the same (who is a citizen? What is Law? Who executes the Law?). You could probably write "The Emperor's West Wing" in five minutes; now that i think of it, HBO's "Rome" is more or less that, plus the customary brawls and orgies.

From the Gracchi to Nero: A History of Rome from 133 BC to AD 68
by H. H. Scullard

Read more about this title...

Labels: , ,

posted by GiacomoL @ 4:00 PM   0 comments links to this post