ANA technology update and a shout out

March 2014 edition.

March 2014 edition.

If you are a member of the American Numismatic Association, you should have received your copy of the March edition of The Numismatist. Those of us with Basic membership, who access The Numismatist electronically via the website or the app, should have access to the March issue.

Once you open your copy, you might want to check out the article on page 67. It is written by your favorite numismatic blogger talking about the work being done by the ANA and the Technology Committee on the new ANA website.

Please read the article, but I want to reiterate two points:

  1. The technology committee is made up of ANA members who are volunteering their time and expertise to ensure that everything regarding the building of the website is in the best interest of the ANA. Long time readers know that aside from my background in information security, I had been a critic of how the ANA was technologically unsophisticated. They benefit by bringing in members, especially those of us who have been critical, to help them move forward in a way to best benefit the organization.
  2. The work being done by the ANA staff in Colorado Springs has been tremendous. First, it was a great idea by then Executive Director Jeff Shevlin to hire (the now defunct) Amos Digital to really kick start the process. Amos Digital did an excellent job helping the ANA manage the request for proposal (RFP) process and coordinating the review and selection process. It is unfortunate that Amos Press disbanded Amos Digital because they had a great team.

    Since becoming Executive Director, Kim Kiick has really done a wonderful job in working with the Board, the Tech Committee, and the selected vendor. In fact, Kim and her staff has worked so well with the new vendor that they have found additional cost savings while maintaining the standards we techies want to ensure is maintained throughout this process.

Writing an article for The Numismatist is more difficult than a blog post because of space limitations. There is only so much that can be said in a limited amount of space. Since I do not have those limitations here, I want to take the opportunity to praise the work of the one person who has really done a tremendous job for the ANA.

For those who do not know, Jake Sherlock is the magician behind the scenes making the cobbled together technology work in trying to make the ANA appear technologically friendly. From helping to maintain the website whose software is sorely out of date to figuring out how to broadcast meetings from the ANA convention, Jake has worked hard with very little to do a lot for the association.

What makes this even more awe inspiring is that Jake does not have a technical background. I am sure he will correct me, but I think he told me his background is in communications and public relations. He should be commended by everyone associated with the ANA for stepping into this role and making a big difference.

Once the new technology is in place it will be fun to see what Jake can do with modern tools.

Thank you, Jake!

What e-publishing means for the hobby

Since learning to program computers in 1976, I have been a proponent of technology and its positive effects on the progresses we have made in many areas of our lives. This technology has progressed things we can see like the automated teller machine, quicker checkouts at the grocery stores, smartphones, tablets, and even all the gizmos in your car. If I look at the iPhone in my pocket and compared it to the Poly 88 that I first programmed or the IBM 360 that I submitted punch cards to, it would be like trying to compare a Roman Denarius to an American Silver Eagle.

For those not olde enough to remember, this is a computer punch card!

For those not olde enough to remember, this is a computer punch card!

A lot has happened in the world of technology. In the more than 35 years I have been doing this professionally, I have kept up, adapted, and even embraced new technologies looking for ways to enhance whatever I am doing. Not only have I worked to make technology accessible but in the last 25 years I have been working to keep it safe.

I love what technology has done to enhance many aspects of our lives. And you do not have to be a user of technology to have it affect the way you live. Computers help with inventory control to ensure store shelves are stocked; manage traffic control both in the air and on the ground; and generally make the behind-the-scenes management of a lot of things easier including maintenance on this blog.

Since my response to Dennis Tucker, Publisher of Whitman Publishing LLC, I have received a mix of private email notes about one phrase: calling physical books ‘Dead Tree Editions.” In the first two hours after the post appeared, I received more than two-dozen email notes running slightly in favor of physical books. As of Wednesday afternoon, the score was 17-15 in favor of real paper.

I do not know the demographics of those who did not volunteer the information, but based on the comments like, “I have been collecting for umpteen years…” or “I was a teenager when clad coins were just beginning…” it does not take much to get a general idea of demographics.

Of the 17 who responded that they prefer paper books over e-book, I am guessing that 12 are like me, members of the AARP demographic (50 and over).

However, contrary to what some have written, I am not a techno-snob!

Scott's 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster.

Scott’s 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster. No computers in this baby!!
For more images of this car, click here.

I really understand that people have their preferences and that technology does not belong in certain areas. These people have a preference for the “old ways.” Whether they have a preference for books over e-books, classic rock over today’s pop, or a drive classic car whose closest computer is in the driver’s pocket, I have no problems with people opting for paper books over electronic edition.

My complaint is not with the preference but the availability of e-books that will allow me and everyone else to choose. I understand the need for choice because neither Whitman nor I will convince everyone to only read e-books.

However, if you look at the demographics of the ANA and its future, the next generation that are its future members, the so-called Generation X people, is the first generation of significant technology adapters and e-book readers. Gen X’ers are the first big wave of technology adapters who know of a connected world and have a vague memory of a world before Al Gore invented the Internet.

Right behind Generation X are the Millennials who grew up with the explosion of the Internet and probably have never read a newspaper cover-to-cover. While hobby publishers may have some time adjusting with Generation X, they will lose completely to the Millennials if they do not adapt.

Whitman is not the only publisher that needs to better examine its use of technology. Krause Publications is not much better. Where Whitman lacks in vision, Krasue lacks in execution. Rather than embrace electronic publishing that is friendly to e-readers, Krause and F+W Media, its parent, is holding onto the old-style by offering its products using Portable Document Format (PDF) rather than using formats that are friendlier to e-readers.

Standard Catalog of World Coins CD set covering 1601-1900

Standard Catalog of World Coins CD set covering 1601-1900

I have purchased the Krause Standard Catalogues and the various antique guides from F+W on CD or DVD because that is what is available. I use them as part of my hobby and my new professional life in the collectibles business, but I wish I had real e-reader formats so that I can use the tools to bookmark and make annotations.

Even the venerable Numismatic News has stuck its publishing toe in the e-publishing waters by making one edition electronic. However, instead of embracing the newsstand formats that would be friendly to an iPad or Kindle e-reader, they are mailing PDF layouts of this publication. I hope you have plenty of space in your Inbox.

In the meantime, the American Numismatic Association is producing an e-reader friendly version of The Numismatist that is far easier to read than the PDF edition of Numismatic News emailed monthly. Since The Numismatist reader app works well, I stopped receiving the paper edition of The Numismatist opting for a Basic membership and to read the journal electronically. I do not miss the “Dead Tree Edition.”

ereadersIt is not a demographic issue as it is a commitment to the hobby’s future. I am sure the people at Hemming’s Motor News have a similar problem with demographics as those faced by Whitman and F+W. If you read their publications, you will notice that their demographic skews to an older population. Yet, they have quietly embraced the technologies that some of their readers want while still publishing physical magazines. I recently subscribed to the digital version of Hemming’s Classic Car on my iPad and love it!

How could Hemming’s do this for the auto enthusiasts market but Whitman and F+W cannot do the same for numismatics?

Whitman and F+W have shown that they cannot be relied upon to be the leaders in producing the numismatic information in a way the future of the hobby will embrace. Since other markets have proven that it is possible to embrace technology to enhance the physical world, I can only emphasis my commitment to help the ANA build a better technology infrastructure because if we leave it to the market, they will fail the hobby.

The ANA gets it but does Whitman?

In letter to the editor that will appear in the February 10, 2014 edition of Coin World (now available online), Dennis Tucker writes that the target of the American Numismatic Association website rebuild and acknowledging “’Young Numismatists are the future of the hobby’ are slogans to murmur approvingly, without logical reasoning.” He goes on to give his view of the market to target without recognizing facts of market forces.

For the record, Dennis Tucker is the publisher of Whitman Publishing, LLC whose books are widely read in the hobby. Whitman Expo, a division of Whitman Publishing, runs probably the three largest commercial numismatics shows in the country out of Baltimore.

Tucker, whose business is selling physical books, or what I would call “dead tree editions,” opines that it would be wiser and more productive to target those in the 50 and 60 year old demographic than 10 and 20 year olds. It is obvious that Tucker is looking at the issue from the spectrum of the business he is responsible for rather than the real future.

One problem with Tucker’s argument is similar to those in many other hobbies that rely on the collecting of physical objects: if the hobby cannot be translated to the younger demographic then the future of the hobby will be lost. As the final wave of the baby boomer generation celebrates their 50th birthday this year, empty chairs are becoming more prominent at meetings with fewer standing there to fill those chairs. There seems to be a smaller pool of people ready to join even though the population in the demographic that Tucker wants to target has grown.

Another problem with his argument is that it does not address how to reach this or any other demographic. Based on his company’s business model and his letter, Tucker is implying that even his target demographic is not using technology and cannot be reached using technology. Unfortunately, that flies in the face of researched facts.

Pew Internet and Lifestyle Study: For the first time, a third of American adults own tablet computers

Pew Internet and Lifestyle Study: For the first time, a third of American adults own tablet computers

One way to judge the acceptance and usage of technology is to look at the most cutting edge device and see who are its users. In 2013, the device still on the cutting edge is the tablet. Whether it is the iPad, Kindle, Nook, or any number of other manufacturer’s device, the tablet can be considered one of the most disruptive advances because it disrupts markets in so many areas. Tablets have created new markets for services as well as forced others, like traditional newspapers and magazines, to change the way they do business.

Using tablets as a barometer, we can look at the “Tablet Ownership 2013” report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. In their study, Pew reports that through May 2013, tablet ownership has grown from May 2010, one month after the iPad’s introduction, the number of tablet users have increased from 3-percent to 34-percent. That is more than an 1100-percent increase in three years!

Further, Pew’s research found that the demographic with the most significant ownership are the age group of 45-54 with 38-percent ownership and 35-44 with 49-percent. The first is part of the market that Tucker wants to target while the latter is the market that should be next.

US Tablet Owner Demographics as of September 2013 (courtesy of

US Tablet Owner Demographics as of September 2013 (courtesy of

Pew’s research also looked at tablet ownership by income and found that 56-percent of adults that own tablets earn $75,000 or more per year. If Tucker’s goal is to target those with disposable income, just look at one of the fastest growing area of technology to understand where the markets are going.

Another study recently release by Pew notes that e-book readership has grown as the sales of e-readers have risen. While the study does not say people have not completely replaced their dead tree versions with electronic editions, there is anecdotal evidence that if more titles were available electronically, those with e-readers would take advantage of that.

In a broader look at the emerging online world, Pew Research provides trend data that shows that more people are using the technology in their daily lives. Not only are more than 60-percent of the 50-64 year old demographic using the Internet and associated technologies a large numbers, but e-reader ownership is increasing. It is also increasing in the younger demographics, including those in the 30-49 year old range who would be Tucker’s next generation of customers.

The ANA, like any business, has to adapt to new markets or they lose their relevancy. It is not enough to say to target one group over the other but you have to target the markets where they are moving. Even if the business is concentrated in one market, it has to adapt and diversify within its market or it becomes irrelevant. As a stark example, you can look at the downfall of Blackberry. Once the king of the smartphone, Blackberry, once called the Crackberry because its users were addicted to it like a crack addict was addicted to crack-cocaine, went from the most popular phone to the least popular phone because they ignored the trend set first by Apple then by Google’s Android.

Borders, a one-time success story, did not adapt to the changing market and paid for that failure.

Borders, a one-time success story, did not adapt to the changing market and paid for that failure.

History shows how significant technologies disrupt markets and those that do not adapt go the way of the buggy whip, blacksmith, telegraph, Kodachrome film, and the Motorola DynaTAC phone. If the ANA cannot reinvent itself by adapting technology to what its potential members are doing, the ANA will go the way of Blockbuster, Polaroid, and Borders Books.

Whitman and Tucker could help the ANA by looking at this future and target their books to this growing demographic. While the quality of Whitman’s books have improved, the companies selling tablets and e-readers are reporting increased sales of their products and an increased sales of content for those products.

Amazon is betting a lot on the tablet and e-reader market. They sell the Kindle nearly at their cost in order to lure customers into their dedicated markets. Amazon hopes to sell you a Kindle so that you buy their e-content which they make money by transferring bits. Not only has Amazon built in the infrastructure to transfer bits of information, but they are selling it as a service to others in order to reach the same markets. Amazon is betting that once you are in their market, they can sell you these bits, which are cheaper to store, package, and ship than dead tree edition books.

While the e-book market is growing, Whitman and other hobby publications are dipping their proverbial toes in this market. Although Whitman does offer a number of its books in e-reader format, they do not market that fact nor do they do any outreach in order to build that market. It is as if they publish this content so that when the topic comes up they could say that they do have e-books. They are checking the box, so to speak.

Kodachrome; You give us those nice bright colors; You give us the greens of summers; Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah!

With its premier content, Whitman should be out front of the numismatic market for e-publishing. Tucker and his marketing department should be standing on the proverbial street corner marketing their e-book offerings. This will not only help the hobby but his own company by reaching out to the demographic that the ANA is targeting: the connected numismatist.

Growing the ANA is like growing a business; you have to look at what your target market’s demographics are and figure out how to reach them. For hobbies like numismatics, the new target is online where the current generation is moving and where the next few generations will be. Not adapting to those new markets can make both the ANA and Whitman as relevant as the Betamax and go the way of Woolworth’s or

I am glad the ANA is doing something to expand its market.

Trend chart courtesy of the Pew Internet and American Life Project
Data chart of the Pew Research courtesy of
Image of Borders closing is courtesy of
Kodachrome box image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Kodachrome lyrics (image caption) by Paul Simon

Is it the darkest before the dawn?

Earlier this week I read an article by Patrick Heller how the aging collector population would affect the supply and demand for numismatic items. One point Heller makes is that as collectors pass on and leave significant collections to heirs, he finds “that most heirs do not share the same passion for the holdings as the coin collector who died.”

Heller further notes, “In more than a few instances, those selling the collections have much less numismatic knowledge than the collector who died to be able to liquidate the treasures for the best price.”

Although it was not the premiss of Heller’s article, what really has to be addressed is how to increase the number of collectors and provide help to non-collectors who find themselves in the position to have to deal with a collection left behind by a deceased loved one. Of course there are two books that will explain what those selling collections as part of an estate, but sometimes they need more help.

For those interested in collecting, there needs to be an outlet to find information and be able to participate in the community. Information has to be engaging and the collector should be encouraged to collect what they like and like what they collect.

There are so many ways to collect numismatic items that it will be difficult to list them in one place. One way to start is to try to engage the collector where they are. Today, that means finding them on the Internet.

The future of every hobby, business, and nearly every aspect of life will be online.

Some might suggest that you cannot do everything online. While that may be true, the online world helps open the doors to the off line experience.

I am not suggesting that numismatics should look at the Internet as one large online supermarket or auction house. The Internet can be the gateway to knowledge. It can explain to the family that inherited grandpa’s collection how to handle it without getting ripped off. It can explain that transportation tokens may be the ultimate local collectibles and finding them can be even more challenging than finding coins. It can explain what are the positives and negatives to collecting modern non-circulating legal tender coins. It can open the door to collecting foreign coins and currency from the country your parents or grandparents came from.

The Internet can also explain that your State Quarter collection may not be as valuable as you though, including those purchased on that alleged “special sale” on television. However, that extra tree on the Minnesota quarter may be worth just a bit more than 25-cents!

“Buy the Book before the coin” is a popular mantra repeated in the hobby. But which book? If you look at the catalogs of coin books from all publishers, there are so many books how do you know which one to buy. Some people even recommend reading auction catalogs. While many auction catalogs are really sales pitches, catalogs for special sales have some wonderful information, great images, and even pointer to other references.

There needs to be a central repository for numismatic information from a trusted source that is not trying to sell you on their version of numismatics.

This is where the American Numismatic Association comes in the picture.

Over the last year, the ANA has been working to enter the 21st century to offer more services online. Even though it may appear that the ANA is barely out of the 20th century in technology, employees at the ANA headquarters have done yeomen work with what they have. But the work is only beginning.

Building online services is not easy when your product is not easily defined. Those of us in the information industry call it the “Big Data” problem because data is the driver, there is a lot of it, and managing it is not as easy as it seems. Data can be ordered in more ways than an inventory of coins or a catalog of auctions.

When looking at the problem, data tends to grow and that growth has to be managed whereas a dealer’s inventory can be in flux and auction data is static and controllable.

These problems not only makes what the ANA is trying to do to be that information leader very difficult, but doing it in a compelling manner that makes that could help attract new collectors makes the job even tougher.

Next week at the World’s Fair of Money, the ANA Board of Governors will hear about the selection of a new contractor to help take the next steps in conquering big numismatic data. They will also hear from impassioned members of the Technology Committee who only wants this contractor to succeed and do so in a way to allow the ANA to provide premier online services—a model for other non-profit hobby organizations.

Creating these online services will not happen overnight. In fact, it may take a year or longer to see significant advancements. That is the nature of building these services essentially from scratch. But it is worth the wait.

In the end, there will be resources for members and the public that will promote the hobby in a way that only the ANA can do. Hopefully, it will convince those who let their membership expire to return to the ANA, strengthen the bond between ANA members and clubs, and lure collectors who are interested to join us.

As an ANA member and a member of the Technology Committee, I hope you will support the ANA’s efforts because if the demographics cannot be skewed a little younger, we may be looking at a bleaker future for the hobby.

About the pictures… when I talk about technology I tend to think about the time I started and the Control Data Corp. Cyber 18/30 that was significant in my college days. We used to call her “LC” for Little Cyber. It helps remind me of where computing has come, especially that my iPhone is millions of times more powerful than LC!

Of course if I’m taking a walk down memory lane, I have to include the Poly 88, the first computer I ever programmed!

Time to renew my ANA Membership and talk about its future

American Numismatic AssociationOn Friday, I received a notice to renew my American Numismatic Association membership by the end of this month. Even though a few people wrote to me after the election saying that they would not renew their membership, I believe that the ANA is still a good organization worth of the support of every numismatist regardless of age, experience, and collecting interest. My only question is whether to change to the basic level to save trees.

Members renewing at the Basic level can read The Numismatist online or via my computer or the iPad app. I stopped using the iPad app for a while after having problems. The app was updated and seems to be working fine now. I think I would prefer to read it on my iPad than the paper version. It is more portable. However, if the program could be converted to work with Apple’s Newsstand, the ANA may be able to find a new revenue stream by selling individual issues.

After the election I received a lot of complaints about the the ANA and how it operates. In many cases, I agree with the assessments but I also see where there are changes coming and all of the changes are for the better!

First and foremost, the ANA is being dragged into the technology of the 21st century. In a move started by former Executive Director Jeff Shevlin, the ANA has engaged Amos Digita, the technology arm of Amos Press, the publisher of Coin World. Anyone who has seen the positive evolution of the Coin World website and has read Coin World Next online can see examples of their work. Working with Amos Digital is a very positive step for the ANA.

Between Amos Digital, the commitment of the ANA staff involved, and the Technology Committee (which I am a member) the future to better the ANA’s technology is looking very good!

Technology alone is not going to make the ANA a better organization but the technology will provide a platform to make the ANA more responsive to its members. Technology can help with virtual clubs, education, and to bring the information out to the members. Technology can enhance shows and deliver some of the content to the members who may not be able to attend the shows.

However, technology is only an enhancer—a tool to make the ANA better for you. The problem is that those of us who are putting the tool together may not know what will make the ANA a better organization for you. What do you want to see from the ANA? How can the technology be used to make your experiences better?

Although I have some ideas, I am a systems guy. I put together systems to do what my customers want. And even though I know what I want as a member, it is only my opinion.

As a member of the ANA Technology Committee I want your opinion. What do you want from this tool? How can the ANA use these tools to make your experience as a member the ANA better? I am handing you a blank sheet of virtual paper (the comment section, below). Let me and my fellow Tech Committee members know how we can use this tool to better serve the membership.

Medal image courtesy of Wikipedia.

POLL: How can the ANA use technology to help you?

IBM 370/158By the time this is posted, I should be on a plane headed to the American Numismatic Association headquarters in Colorado Springs. This will be my first time visiting the ANA Headquarters and Colorado Springs. I hope it is not my last!

The reason for my visit is part of my role with the ad hoc Technology Committee to speak with a potential vendor who can offer services to the ANA to improve their technology infrastructure. With my background in building complex systems and information security, I hope to help the ANA create an environment that will use technology to better serve the members and the clubs. I admit there are some that will not embrace technology, but it will give the ANA an entree into a untapped population of collectors.

Technology is not the solution but the tool to use to bring the fun of coin collecting to more people than the 28,000 members of the ANA and hopefully make them members.

For this week’s poll, let’s imagine that the ANA has the technology to handle just about anything. What services would you like to see delivered by the ANA to help you or your club? The poll has nine suggestions plus an “other.” Pick your top three ideas. If you pick “other” then leave a comment here and let me know. In fact, I realize that the poll seems collector centric, so let me hear from dealers. I do not want to leave you out, especially since the collectors need you to help feed our collecting habits!

Comments are moderated only to prevent comment spam. All comments not deemed to be spam are approved regardless of your views—I especially like comments that disagree with me. If you do not want to give your name, then enter a handle or “anonymous.” Although the comment form asks for an email address, it will not be posted but will allow me to contact you if I have questions.

Let me hear from you and let’s work together to bring more the ANA to build a collector community.

What top 3 online services would you like to see the ANA offer?

Online courses including Summer Seminar (19%, 7 Votes)
Money Talks seminars from ANA conventions (14%, 5 Votes)
Weekly podcast with live call-in (14%, 5 Votes)
Videos from the ANA library (11%, 4 Votes)
Weekly news from around the ANA (11%, 4 Votes)
Broadcast of Board of Governors meetings (8%, 3 Votes)
Online reports from ANA shows (8%, 3 Votes)
Special museum video tours (8%, 3 Votes)
Virtual bourse from the ANA conventions (5%, 2 Votes)
Something else (3%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 14

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Image of an IBM System/370 Model 158 complements of Otto Rohrer on Flickr.
I chose the the image of the IBM 370/158 because it was the first computer I “mastered” in college. We have come a long way since then!

Review: Electronic Standard Catalogs

There are few numismatic references as the Krause Publication’s Standard Catalog series. The multiple volume phonebook-sized references is invaluable to collectors of world coins and paper money. When it came time to update my set, I opted to buy the volumes on compact disk rather than “dead tree editions.”

Long time readers of this blog knows that I am a proponent of electronic books. E-books are the future and will dominate the publishing landscape in the next 10 years. I do not think paper will ever disappear. I believe that yearly references, such as the Standard Catalogs, will find a new, more successful home in electronic form.

I have read reviews where the Standard Catalog series has its problems with missing or inaccurate data, but it is one of the most complete references that exist. There are studies of various series that has more in depth information and a better reference for Canadian numismatics, but to have one reference for the world, there is nothing to match the Standard Catalogs. However, it would be a good idea for the staff at Krause to address the missing or erroneous information that has been communicated to them.

But this review is not necessarily on the content but the format. When you buy the CDs of the various Standard Catalogs you receive a disk with the PDF of the entire book with installation and reading instructions along with the occasional “bonus feature.” I have ignored everything on the CD except the PDF of the Standard Catalog.

Installation is easy. Insert the CD in your computer and copy the files to the hard disk. Since the files are big, the copy will take some time, but it is worth copying them to your hard drive rather than trying to use them from the slower CD. If your computer has a solid-state drive (SSD)—sometimes called a RAM or Memory Drives—I would recommend using that for storage since it is much faster than mechanical disks.

The real advantage is being able to load the file onto your mobile device and taking it with you. While you can use the files on a smartphone, the size of the file and the page formatting is best for tablets. Since I own an iPad, I was able to drag-and-drop the files into iTunes and sync the files to my iPad.

On the iPad, the Standard Catalog files were accessible using iBooks, which made navigation and searching easy. For my test in toting and using the iPad, I also sent the PDF of the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money to be opened using the Amazon Kindle app for the iPad, which requires send the file via email to a special address Amazon sets up for you once you register your Kindle app on their site. After you mail the file, then it can be downloaded to your Kindle or the app. I am not happy with the two-part process, but it does work.

There is little difference between using iBooks and the Kindle app for being able to read and search the Standard Catalog files. Searching was as easy as tapping on the screen to see the search dialog and entering what I am looking for, such as the name of a country.

While attending the World’s Fair of Money a few weeks ago, I was able to reach into my backpack to consult these references on my iPad. This was a lot easier than toting around phonebook-sized references.

The problem with using the PDF files is that the format is fixed and do not reflow to reflect the variations of the ebook formats. However, this is not Krause’s fault. Current ebook technologies, primarily the EPUB standard, does not support in-text images or the formatting of tables which is critical for the Standard Catalog references. The standards organization that is working on the next version of the EPUB specification is supposed to be addressing these issues. Until then, PDF versions are the best option.

PDF documents should be the first step on the road to ebook references. What would be better is an app that would run natively on the tablet. The app would be easier to navigate than a book possibly use imaging and pattern matching technologies to help collectors identify coins. A low cost app that may have a subset of the data with paid updates that might be available quarterly would be an option. In other words, if the costs are affordable (less than what it costs today for physical media), then it would make a worthwhile reference for all collectors.

For now, the PDF files make using the Standard Catalogs easier to use and even saves trees. I am all for saving trees especially when it is easy to use!

Review: Heritage Mobile Catalog for the iPad

Heritage Mobile Catalog Opening Screen

Late last month, Heritage Auctions announced the free Heritage Mobile Catalog for iPad. The app allows those interested in Heritage auctions to view auction lots, see high resolution images of the items, bid, and follow auction, “in real-time,” according to Heritage. As a customer of Heritage, I downloaded the app hoping it would be something special.

This review is for the Heritage Mobile Catalog for the iPad only. Heritage has a separate app that works for the iPhone and iPad that is a wrapper around their mobile website. Do not confuse the two. The Heritage Mobile Catalog app is an application and different from the website. The Heritage app provides nothing more than what you can experience if you opened Safari on your iDevice and went to For Android users, you are not missing anything by not having the Heritage App. I deleted the Heritage app from my iPhone and iPad.

The Heritage Mobile Catalog app is works in portrait and landscape mode on the iPad, but I found that using it in landscape mode looks better. When you open the app, you are presented with a number of virtual “catalogs” of Heritage’s various auctions. Even though this blog is interested in numismatics, I like to look at some of Heritage’s other auctions—which is why I now own some older political memorabilia. For this review, I selected the catalog for the August 3 Currency Signature Auction in Philadelphia.

The first issue that users will experience is this is not a “real-time” application. Before being able to browse an auction, you have to download the catalog. This can take some time depending on your connection. Even a more recent test using my home WiFi connection at full strength and no other activity I lost track of the time it was taking to download a catalog that was reported to be over 164 megabytes. All I remember was that during the wait I was able to make a bio-break and pour a beverage. If I was not trying to refresh my review, I would have given up and opened Safari to go to their website.

The Update dialog for the Heritage Mobile Catalog app.

Once the catalog is downloaded, the other “real-time” mistake this app makes is that it asks you if you want to update the bids in the catalog. If you do not press the “Update” button, then the prices it will show you while browsing the catalog will not be current. This is not the definition of “real-time” and represents a bad user experience.

You can avoid the dialog box if you press the “Update Bids” button. This will do the same as the dialog box, but you have to remember to press it first before pressing the “View” button to see the catalog. In either case, this is not a straight forward interface for the ordinary user. In fact, as a note to the project manager at Heritage, this type of interface reminds me of the book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. The first half of this book makes it worth reading.

Gallery View in the Heritage Mobile Catalog app is similar to Apple’s cover flow.

Once the catalog is open, the app is wonderful. The Gallery View is reminiscent of the cover-flow view used in iTunes on your computer or the Music app if you turn the iDevice to landscape mode. Browsing in Gallery View is very smooth with very good images of the auction lots. If you want to bid, just tap on the image and a bidding dialog pops up.

List View really lets you get down to the business of browsing and bidding on the auction. While Gallery View is nice, you will probably use List View more. Both views allows you to sort the list by several criteria and the Refine button will let you search for specific items and let you narrow the display by relevant terms. While the images here are screen shots from a currency auction, the Refine Search adapts to the type of auction you are viewing.

Where the annoyance returns is the “My Heritage” button that does not offer a service but connects you to the Heritage website and uses the output from the website as the display. In order for an iOS application to open a web page, it has to bring up a separate window that overlays over the app. There’s a “clunky” feeling to this type of interface that I find annoying.

When you tap on an auction to bid on it, users of the eBay for iPad app will find familiar. There is nothing wrong with this interface because I think the Heritage version is a cleaner and a little more intuitive than the way eBay crammed everything into their version.

Bid screen in the Heritage Mobile Catalog app.

Bidding was not a problem. I was able to bid on a few lots, including the one imaged. I did not win the lots I bid on because I forgot to return to the app to check on the bids. At the last minute I went to the website since I was not at home and it was taking a long time to update using the public WiFi where I was logged in.

While I can speculate on why the Heritage Mobile Catalog app does this type of pre-loading, the bottom line is that it takes too long and does not update prices in “real-time” as their announcement claims. While other apps find ways to integrate their backend processing directly into the app, the Heritage Mobile Catalog has a “bolted-on” feeling. With the exception of the Gallery View, why should someone use this app over opening the browser and directly accessing the auction on the website?

I wanted to love this app but the interface annoyances has me using the website more than this app. It is like a mint state coin that is not well struck which is why I am grading this app MS60. Whomever is responsible for this app at Heritage should look at similar apps (eBay) and consider attending the next Apple World Wide Developers Conference to attend the course on what makes a good iOS interface.


Dispelling Rumors: ANA Website

NOTE: This is a personal statement as the author of this blog. I do not speak for the ANA or any person and entity mentioned below. The ANA’s official statement can be read here, on their website

During the last few days, users of online numismatic forums have been reporting that their credit card information was stolen have conjectured that the recent technical issues that have caused problems with the American Numismatic Association website was to blame. Although the ANA website has had technical issue, there is no evidence that credit card or other personal information was compromised during this time.

Earlier this year, the ANA Board of Governors decided that it was time to consider upgrading their technology infrastructure to support growth of the organization and to support the new generation of members comfortable with being online. Working with the Governor Greg Lyon, a committee of ANA members with technical backgrounds was formed to advise the Board of Governors as to how to proceed. As a longtime critic of the ANA’s use of technology, I was asked to join the committee.

The committee consists of dedicated ANA members with a varied background in the technology industry. The committee is led by James Reinders of Intel with the Web Services Subcommittee chaired by Bill Hyder and I chair the Infrastructure Subcommittee—taking over from Jeff Shevlin who resigned to become the ANA’s Executive Director. For those who do not know, I have been working in the computing industry for over 30 years with over 20 years in information security, the last 15 years with the federal government.

The Technical Committee is answerable to the Board of Governors and required to provide periodic reports to the Board. A report was made during a Board session in Philadelphia that described the committee’s past, present, and future activities. One of those activities was advising the current ANA staff working on the issues that was experienced with the current website.

In working to resolve the issues, the Technical Committee found the ANA staff to be professional, competent, and capable. They were able to fix the problems and get the website back working to its full functionality overcoming some very interesting challenges. The issues the ANA staff faced was caused by issues with the technology and not with a security incident—there was no security incident.

It is unfortunate that attendees to the World’s Fair of Money had their credit card information stolen. I had this happen many years ago with a telephone credit card and had to deal with a bill full of overseas calls worth thousands of dollars. Even with the advances in fraud detection, I know that it is not only difficult to deal with and I know it feels like a virtual punch in the gut. However, the cause of their problem was NOT the ANA website.

REVIEW: NGC Coin Details

Just before the World’s Fair of Money, Numismatic Guarantee Corporation announced a new app, NGC Coin Details for both the iPhone and Android devices. The free app, which can be downloaded from the AppStore for the iPhone and Google Play for Android, provides verification of the certification of any NGC graded coin either by scanning the barcode or entering the serial number.

In addition to the verification service, the app provides coin details, images if they are available, pricing information, description and analysis, and upcoming auction information if it exists. The app is consistent with the look and feel of NGC’s website and provides most of the information they claim.

This review is based on the app for the iPhone but was told that the Android version is similar in look and feel. If someone wants to contribute a review of the Android version of the app including screenshots, please contact me to make the arrangements.

Testing of this app was performed at the World’s Fair of Money but only one set of images were taken while scanning “cheap slabs.” Some dealers became upset with my taking out the phone and pointing it at the coin. I then began to ask dealers if I could try out the app without a lot of success. One dealer accused me of attempting to create a diversion to steal his coins even after I asked for permission, offered my business card, and showed him the NGC app. Although I did not ask, these images were taken at the table for Wayne Herndon Rare Coins with Wayne sitting nearby. I did not want to disturb Wayne since it looked like he was making a nice sale—he deserves my hearty THANKS!

The app opens with a quickly disappearing splash screen and then a page that asks to click on the plus butting to verify a new coin. I do not know why it does not go directly into the verification process, but it does let the user know that if they want to verify a new coin where to go. It then brings up a screen that allows the entering of a certification number from the label or allows the scanning of a barcode.

Barcode scanning is a very nice feature when it works. However, with this app, I found that whether it works depends on the age of the label. New or newer labels that I believe were created since around 2007 can be read by the app. While these may be the most prevalent labels found, it is fortunate that NGC serial numbers are short and they bring up a digital keypad for data entry. Using a keypad-only interface is very helpful in those circumstances.

Several coins I tried had complete information including most Morgan and Peace Dollars, Buffalo Nickels, and current series pre- and post-1964 striking. It was very easy to use, especially for coins whose barcodes were scannable by the app. Where the app was not as good were for coins in older slabs whose barcodes could not be scanned. For those coins, there were missing detail information including some variety information that was found when scanning a similar coin in a newer slab. This was interesting to see the difference in how the app reacted when scanning similar Morgan Dollars of the same year and mintmark.

Pricing information was missing from many coins that were manually entered. This is one example.[/caption]It is understandable that some coins may not have images in the NGC database, but when a relatively common coin does not have a price details, one begins to wonder. In the example that was captured, the 1985-S proof Roosevelt Dime should have come up with price guide information. In fact, many modern proofs did not show pricing information even if they were scanned.

Another missing feature is the description and analysis of many coins that are not considered “classic.” Very few modern coins that were tried had description and analysis information while I found that series that ended before the coinage that was in place in 1964 (e.g., Mercury Dimes, Buffalo Nickels, Standing Liberty Quarters, etc.) had description and analysis information. Some of the Variety Plus information was available, but I was only able to try the app on a few coins where the information would show up.

While the app worked without issue, the problem is the data that NGC is using to feed the app. There was missing information and no prices. There was a difference between the data received from a scanned barcode versus on entered manual. And one would expect that the Variety Plus information for a Washington Dollar include missing edge lettering or doubled edge lettering issues that they have found while grading these coins. Also, how difficult would it be to enter a generic series-based description for some of the coins like the Presidential Dollars. This might be something NGC could consider on the backend if the description and analysis field is empty.

In grading the graders the review had to take everything into consideration and came up with a grade of MS65*. It deserves the star for the great eye appeal and the better than an MS64 because when it scanned the barcode it was wonderful. But points were lost for a lot of missing descriptions, missing pricing on some coins, and failing to scan older labels. While NGC could fix the first two on their servers, the scanning issue could be an issue with the application. I look forward to seeing if they can fix it in their next update.

Screen Shots


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