I went to FNAC Colombo today to return an article, and profited from the occasion to stroll through the store to see if anything caught my fancy. I mostly followed my usual pattern: first the Bande Dessinée section, then the SF&F section, and finally the IT section (no classical music today). As usual, the BD section didn't have my kind of stuff, while the pitiful SF&F section made me once more question why I ever bother going there. In the IT section, however, I found three new (to me) O'Reilly books, which is a bit surprising since FNAC usually carries a very fragmented selection of O'Reilly's huge catalogue. The following is emphatically NOT a review of those books, just a barely coherent rant on IT book prices in bricks-and-mortar bookstores in Portugal:
Mapping Hacks looks good: It's printed on high-quality paper, presumably in order to let the ubiquous colour images shine, and shine they do. Geo-location is all the rage now, as can be inferred from the huge ammount of Google Maps mashups that keep on appearing, and I've often wished I knew more about GIS, Geolocation and associated tools.
The book seems to have a lot of interesting recipes, but unfortunately it violates my religious principles: most code snippets are written in Perl, a language I deliberately avoid. I will be the first to admit that Perl is a powerful language, and I won't try to argue a position that is basically unarguable. Perl simply violates my aesthetic standards by being irredeemably ugly.
The book also cost, if I recall correctly, €39 (as of today, 47$), while the official price (hidden in the back-cover by the FNAC price tag) is $30. Oh, and it costs $20 on Amazon, where it also manages to score 4.5 stars. Not surprisingly, I chose not to buy it at FNAC.
Before I saw the light and became a very annoying Ruby and RoR evangelizer, I used to be a very annoying Python evangelizer. Although I now see that Python is imperfect and strays from the One True Path, I have to admit that I still hold a place for the darned thing deep down in my heart. Hate the sin, love the sinner, etc.
Naturally, ever since back the day I heard Nokia was making Python run on all Series 60 phones, I've been longing to get a Series 60 phone and start tinkering with it, which I would have done if Nokia made phones with better user interfaces. (As it is, all my mobiles since 2003 have been Sony-Ericssons, from the T68i to the T630 to my current K750i.) The recent release of version 1.2 has made the craving even more acute.
I thus picked up the book with some interest, maybe hoping to finally find a reason to shell out some serious money for a recent Series 60 Nokia phone. One glance, however, at the back-cover of what might have been a happy on-the-spot purchase was enough to identify a €10 markup that made it impossible to justify buying the book, which is recommended by O'Reilly for $25 but sells for $16.47 on Amazon, where it gets an average of five stars from the reviewers. That makes it two possible lost sales for FNAC. I guess I'll have to make do with the PythonForSeries60 wiki for the time being.
This was the book that most caught my interest. I've just finished teaching a Sun JES Access Manager class, and Digital Identity looks like the ideal complement to spice up my next class. Authored by Phil Windley of Technometria and IT Conversations, Digital Identity presents an overview of common Identity Management concepts and issues, and the rationale for the current best-practices, which include the Identity Management Architecture, an architecture for identity federation, which is also the approach taken by Access Manager for cross-company SSO. If I had found this book two weeks ago, I would have bought it without blinking. Post-factum, however, the €45 price ($54) compares unfavourably to the recommended price of $35, and seems downright unbearable when the same book can be had for $23 on Amazon (where it gets 4.5 stars). This particular sale was lost on price alone -- I'm ordering the book from Amazon now.
In my wildest, drug-induced dreams, I envision myself launching what I sometimes imagine every IT professional in Portugal must want: a bookstore dedicated to IT books, with shelves filled with the complete catalogue of important IT publishers such as O'Reilly, Addison-Wesley, Wiley, etc., or at the very least a good selection from their catalogues that leaves out obsolete books and technologies and concentrates on what currently matters. I've been forced to conclude that the reason this bookstore does not exist and most likely will not exist in the near future is that it is not economically viable.
I have to suppose that FNAC knows its business. Urgent purchases, impulse purchases, lazy buyers and e-commerce avoiders must occur in numbers large enough to justify having an IT section with a haphazard selection of English language titles, while probably not large enough to justify having a well stocked and organized section. Amazon and other e-booksellers have probably made it unprofitable for big chains such as FNAC to have good IT sections, so it's unlikely that a good, specialized IT store can survive in Portugal.