Monday, April 01, 2013

Chinua Achebe passes on

Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, 82, died in a hospital in Boston after a brief illness, on March 22, 2013. He was widely regarded as the father of modern African literature, and lived and worked as a professor in the United States in recent years, most recently at Brown University in Rhode Island. Nobel prize winner, Wole Soyinka; poet, John Pepper Clark; fellow Nigerian who died in the Biafrah war of the 70s, Christopher Okigbo; and Chinua Achebe were the 'brother' African writers of the 50s and 60s.

There was a minor 'literary' furore in Malaysia in 2006 about Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, the news of which took a trip around the world. Malaysia had banned Things Fall Apart.  This is what happened: we had ordered copies of the books, which we had kept in stock since we opened in 1999, but were told by our distributors that they could not supply us because the book had been 'banned' by the government. So, because the book was being used in schools, we had to tell that to many of our customers who were teachers and students. You can imagine their reaction. Blogs were the 'in' thing at the time, not Facebook.

'Banning' books in Malaysia has many dimensions, not always done in accordance to the law. One can speculate, from past experience, what happened at the customs this time though. I'd go with arbitrary confiscation (because we checked and didn't find the title on the 'banned; list), to scare the hell out of the importer. Why? We have absolutely no idea. Maybe, he said something wrong, or didn't do something right. Or, he did nothing at all. But, it appeared to have worked; after that the importer became a little paranoid about bringing in anything. Proscribing books by harassment works, and is effective. And the Minister can honestly say that the book is not on the 'list', foreign do-gooders will be happy with the reply (tick), and the importer will never see the books again.

I have checked the latest KDN list, and Things Fall Apart is not on it. Maybe, it never was. Or, maybe, the cynic in me says, they did a Winston Smith on it and erased the past, changed history. I notice that the title on breast feeding I saw several years ago is not on it now, either.

Walmart technology

A Reuters report in September last year (which we reported in this column) said,  "Wal-Mart Stores Inc will no longer sell Inc's Kindle eReaders and tablets, severing its relationship with a major competitor." We predicted Walmart would introduce their own gadget and give it away free to replace that trojan horse. What's happening now is that they have developed an app for the iPhone as a free download.

While Walmart is almost a half-trillion dollar company with annual revenues of $466 billion for its fiscal year 2013, which ended January 31, its online sales revenue is only 9 billion dollars compared to 61 billion for Amazon. Walmart want's to compete and win.

"Walmart is a technology company. Let’s just put that out there right now. The company has crushed all competitors through its mastery of supply-chain logistics and inventory management, which above all are engineering problems," says a recent Wired report.

In August last year, Reuters reported that Wal-Mart Stores Inc was testing a system at a Walmart supercenter in Rogers, Arkansas, near the company's headquarters that would allow shoppers to scan items using their iPhones and then pay at a self-checkout counter, a move to trim checkout times and costs for retailers.

The latest news is that Walmart's  app-based self-checkout is available in more than 200 stores in the US, Wired says, "When you open Walmart’s location-aware main app in a store that has iPhone self-checkout, the so-called “Scan & Go” option becomes available. You scan the barcodes on items as you put them in your (physical) shopping cart, and the app keeps a running total. When you’re done, you go to a standard self-checkout station and choose the “mobile” option on the terminal next to the card swiper. A QR code appears on the screen. Scan the code with your phone, and the app transfers over the contents of your (virtual) shopping cart. Pay as usual, and you’re done." (Watch the Walmart video.)

Yes, anyone who gives Amazon some competition deserves our support.

History of Book Vending Machines

Saw this in the Huffington Post, and thought we'd share it.

Did you know, "The first book-dispensing vending machine was built by Richard Carlile in England in 1822. Carlile was a bookseller who wanted to sell seditious works like Paine's Age of Reason without being thrown in jail. His answer was a self service machine that allowed customers to buy questionable books without ever coming into contact with Carlile. The customer turned a dial on the devise to the publication he wanted, deposited his money, and the material dropped down in front of him ... but that didn't stop ... from convicting one of Carlile's employees for selling "blasphemous material."

There are no pictures of that machine, unfortunately, but you can see one of the 1937 Penguincubator, which appeared in London in 1937, conceived by Allen Lane, the founder of (surprise) Penguin Books, and dispensed classic literature in paperback form for about the price of a pack of cigarettes. Cool.

There are others pictures like:

  • the 1947 book vending machine called the Book-O-Mat, which featured a selection of 50 books any one of which could be purchased for USD 0.25 each.
  • the modern day one in Japan that has success in dispensing a variety of items including beer, pornography, wallet-sized books and comics the size of a phone directory;
  • A Novel Idea at London's Heathrow airport that went bankrupt in 2010. 
  • a paperback vending machine in a Barcelona subway station filled with Spanish translations of Nora Roberts and Victoria Holt.
  • the Readomatic at the Stockholm airport 
  • and lastly, and most interestingly, the BIBLIO-MAT that debuted last year by the Toronto bookshop named Monkey's Paw, the world's first vending machine to dispense a randomly selected second-hand book for the price of two Canadian dollars. You'll never know what you're going to get!