How could Amazon deliver without an address?

17 January 2017

From ZDNet:

Forget Amazon’s much-vaunted testing of drone deliveries to your home. South African startup WumDrop has launched a new precision service that delivers parcels to GPS coordinates taken from a customer’s phone, rather than a physical address.

The Deliver2Me service, which relies on old-fashioned trucks and bikes to drop off packages rather than drones, is launching with the backing of a local retail group but has been on trial since November.

Founder Simon Hartley says during the testing phase, the firm boasted “100 percent accuracy” for delivery, beating traditionally-addressed deliveries over the same space of time.

Delivery to GPS coordinates has long been mooted as a solution to a global problem that impedes the growth of e-commerce in many developing countries. Lots of people in many nations don’t have formal addresses.

Unless you’re the victim of unfortunate circumstances or have made a specific life choice, chances are that if you’re reading this, you probably know where you live. And that’s important, because without an address you probably can’t get a job, a bank account, apply for credit — and you probably can’t buy much online if no one can deliver it to you.

. . . .

UN organisation the Universal Postal Union reckons there are four billion people who don’t have a proper address, while the International Telecommunications Union estimated that 3.2 billion people were online in some form by the end of 2015.

“Even in South Africa, which has arguably the best road and address infrastructure in Africa, address data has an unacceptably high rate of inaccuracy,” Hartley says.

As in many African countries, there are large areas of South Africa which simply don’t have formal street names and numbers. This inhibits the deployment of emergency services, and postal services, even in the relatively wealthy middle classes, are still sub-par and not reliable or accurate enough for many.

Link to the rest at ZDNet and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Case of ‘fattened’ Jorge Luis Borges story heads to court in Argentina

11 January 2017

From The Guardian:

One of the best-known stories by the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges takes the form of a fake literary essay about a Frenchman who rewrites a section of Don Quixote word for word and is showered with praise for his daring.

It is probably safe to say that Borges’s 79-year-old widow, María Kodama – sole heir and literary custodian of his oeuvre – takes a dimmer view of such rewrites.

The novelist and poet Pablo Katchadjian is facing trial for “intellectual property fraud” after publishing a reworking of Borges’s 1945 story The Aleph. The Fattened Aleph – originally published by a small press in 2009 – extended Borges’s work from its original 4,000 words to 9,600.

Most of the alterations consist of the addition of adjectives and descriptive passages and do not change the original plot, which revolves around a “a small iridescent sphere” in a Buenos Aires basement, through which a person can see the entirety of creation.

. . . .

After five years, a court hearing has finally been set for 14 February, and the judge in the case appears to be leaning in Kodama’s favour. “The alteration of the text of the work by Borges is evident,” Judge Guillermo Carvajal stated in his ruling for a trial.

Kodama’s lawyer Fernando Soto dismissed Katchadjian’s claims that the work was a literary experiment. “Only Katchadjian’s name appears on the cover. It doesn’t say ‘The Aleph by Borges, altered by Katchadjian’. Borges is not mentioned in the index or the copyright page either. The only place Borges appears is in a brief postscript at the end of the text,” Soto said.

. . . .

Katchadjian has rarely spoken in public about the case (and did not respond to an interview request), but he did discuss it at at an event last year at the National Library in Buenos Aires.

“The Fattened Aleph is not plagiarism because no plagiarism is open about its source,” Katchadjian said. “Neither is it a joke that went wrong, or one that went right. It is a book I wrote based on a previous text.”

. . . .

Katchadjian’s laywer, Ricardo Strafacce, said he was confident the lawsuit would not prosper. “Legal forensic experts have already established that The Fattened Aleph is a new work of art. Secondly, the court will also take into account that there was no intent by Katchadjian to deceive the reader as to Borges’s authorship of the original The Aleph, which is clearly stated in Katchadjian’s book.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Stolen good books: why Canadian thieves outclass the British

10 January 2017

From The Guardian:

They have a better class of book thief in Toronto. Whereas in the UK, Potters Harry and Beatrix, as well as travel guides, top the list of titles most likely to be stolen from bookshops, thieves working the aisles in the Canadian city are targeting Haruki Murakami’s work.

One bookseller said he was C$800 (£500) lighter after a shoplifting spree that cleared an entire shelf of the Japanese author’s work from his shop. “They took my Norwegian Woods, my Sputniks, all of them,” lamented Gary Kirk of the A Good Read Bookshop, telling broadcaster CBC Toronto that he doubted the thief had ever cracked open a Murakami.

In the UK, though the Booksellers Association keeps no records about “shrinkage” – as it quaintly refers to shoplifting – it appears shoplifters (shrinkers?) browsing its members’ shelves have less highbrow tastes. Philip Downer, former head of Borders UK and managing director of Calliope Gifts told the Guardian that thieves targeted “big brands – Harry Potter, Peppa Pig – where the thief can take a pile of the same title with an easy guarantee of being able to shift the goods.”

. . . .

But am I alone in feeling a bit embarrassed that our thieves can’t raise the bar a bit? Must they make us look so dumb compared with our Canadian cousins?

It isn’t as if our taste in knockoff books has always been books with a reading age of 12 and lots of pictures. As with our bestsellers, our stolen books have dumbed down.

Go back 40 years and any self-respecting book thief in London could be found at Soho’s Coach and Horses knocking back booze with Peter Cook, Lucien Freud and Tom Baker, according to Jeffrey Bernard’s memoirs. Their taste in quality art books and highbrow literary works makes them look like “gentleman thief” Raffles compared to modern-day thieves.

According to former “gentleman bookseller” Steerforth, whole shelves of Nabokov used to disappear from his Richmond shop. One thief, the notorious curmudgeon Roy Faith, who specialised in high-end art books, ensured so much business for store detectives that one firm sent a rep to his funeral. Another wore a specially adapted raincoat to lift copies of the Times Atlas – £75 a pop – two at a time.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Execs foresee leaven 2017

9 January 2017

From The Bookseller:

Book trade executives are optimistic and bullish about 2017, despite the political uncertainty of Brexit, looming European elections and Donald Trump taking up office in the US this month.

Publishing chief executives, leading agents and booksellers have given their predictions for the year ahead, with the overall outlook positive on the back of a second consecutive year of rising print sales.

Opportunities for the trade include an increase in export sales following a decline in the value of the pound, desire to read deeper non-fiction books in a so-called “post-truth world” heralding a “golden era” for the genre and the continuing boom in audio book sales –with Hacehtte UK chief executive Tim Hely Hutchinson predicting a 25% year-on-year growth in the format in 2017.

Ethnic diversity numbers will increase across the industry, foresees Pan Mac c.e.o Anthony Forbes Watson and the trade will then turn its head towards economic diversity in its staff. HarperCollins’ c.e.o Charlie Redmayne believes that the diversity initiatives of 2016 will continue in 2017, “fundamentally changing the look of our industry and the books which we produce – ultimately growing our businesses and making us more relevant to the society in which we live”.

Meanwhile, the perennial quest of how to reach new readers in an unpredictable age will be the focus for Penguin Random House’s chief Tom Weldon.

. . . .

While most are optimistic about the year ahead, there are some who are concerned about its prospects, particularly taking into account wider political events.

“Anyone who is optimistic about a world where a homophobic, racist, lying braggart is the president of the most powerful country in the world, and where Britain deserts its friends and allies in Europe is missing the greater part of their cerebral cortex,” according Profile’s c.e.o Andrew Franklin.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG is not terribly impressed by the methods these experts utilize to forecast future book sales.

Ritually slaughtering an animal and examining its entrails might produce more accurate results.

Dawson City, Yukon

8 January 2017

From The New York Times:

The Hawker Siddeley HS 748 is a delightful, two-engine turboprop relic of an airplane, with metal everywhere you expect plastic, made to land on gravel or ice. Nestled in a Hawker, I flew north from Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital city, past 300 miles of moonscape — gray craters scarred by the white lines of mining roads that seemed to loop and go nowhere — before Dawson City appeared through a hole in the cloud cover. The subarctic town, nicknamed “Paris of the North” during the late 19th-century Gold Rush, looked like a strange, solitary incursion on the land.

I was there to spend three months living in the childhood home of the Canadian writer Pierre Berton, who had donated the house for this purpose. A volunteer picked me up at the one-room airport. On the drive through town, we passed a truck with an animal carcass in the bed, antlers poking out past a tarp. Fat-breasted black birds pecked at the exposed edges. “If you leave your moose out, the ravens will get at it,” the volunteer said.

The Yukon River divided the town into Dawson proper and West Dawson, a scattered community of off-grid cabins whose inhabitants hauled their own wood, water and propane. I walked down to the river almost every day. It was October, and the black, bottomless water flowed fast toward Alaska.

. . . .

I went down to the river’s beach; sheets of ice overlapped where they’d heaved onto the shore, their exposed cross-sections resembling massive blocks of turquoise glass. A government employee had drilled into the ice and laid out orange flags indicating where the ice was thick enough to walk safely.

I watched a dogsled cross. Because of the snow cover, it wasn’t immediately clear where the ground ended and the river began. As I stepped out, I could hear ice continuing to crack, the sound of trickling water running in open rivulets. Under my feet, I’d been told, ran water deep enough to swallow a truck.

This would be a stupid way to die, I thought.

Halfway across, I stopped and looked south, toward where the Yukon River met the Klondike River. At this time of year, the sun rose so late and set so early that it circled the horizon in a continuous blaze of orange.

Part of the Canadian identity is that we’re a hardy people, thriving in the inhospitable north. It’s one of those myths so ingrained and pervasive that you believe it even if, like me — like most — you have lived your whole life in cities less than 60 miles north of the American border.

For just a moment, my breath clouding around me, icicles forming on my chin, I stood in that mythical Canada.

Kim Fu

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Yorkshire’s ‘bookseller from hell’

5 January 2017

From The Guardian:

A secondhand bookshop owner who has received more than 20 complaints about his rudeness has admitted he was wrong to call a customer a “pain in the arse”.

Steve Bloom, who runs Bloomindales in the Yorkshire Dales, has been criticised for asking visitors for a 50p entry fee, with the chairman of Hawes parish council branding him “the bookseller from hell”.

Bloom, who described himself as “not really a people person”, said the council had given the issue more importance than it deserved.

The 63-year-old admitted he should not have called a customer, who went on to complain to the council about his welcome, “a pain in the arse”.

At his home near Settle, North Yorkshire, he added: “I regretted it as soon as I said it.

“He arrived just as I was closing, but I allowed him to go in and browse around. But he ignored me completely when I asked for my 50p, which didn’t help things at all.”

He explained his policy of asking customers for 50p was a way of finding out whether they were serious or not, and that he did not actually take the money. Hawes parish councillors discussed the shop five times since 2013, and chair John Blackie said the “dreadfully rude and offensive” bookseller was a discredit to the market town.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Andy for the tip.

PG suspects US fans of James Herriot will be shocked and dismayed by this story. This is not the Yorkshire we read about.

Authors concerned over ‘triple whammy’ tax blow

5 January 2017

From The Bookseller:

Recent changes to tax rules pose a “triple whammy” blow to writers, the Society of Authors (SoA) has warned.

The SoA’s chief executive Nicola Solomon has told The Bookseller that proposed changes to the VAT flat rate scheme, announced in the last Autumn Statement, will “impact adversely on authors”, while the forthcoming abolition of Class 2 National Insurance in 2018 is “a bombshell for authors on low incomes”. A third blow in a trio of tax changes is the prospect that writers will have to submit quarterly tax updates online as part of a bid to digitise the UK’s tax system. This continues to be “very concerning”, Solomon said, adding that the organisation intends to lobby for changes to exempt sole traders, or for systems to be provided that take into account its members’ “unique working practices”, on all counts.

“We are concerned that there are changes to tax which will create a triple whammy for authors, particularly authors on lower incomes,” Solomon said. “Authors’ incomes are declining and they simply cannot afford to pay more tax and National Insurance or to spend money on expensive accountants, software or updated computers,” Solomon said. “Furthermore, the pressures on authors’ time have also become greater as they are asked to self-promote by appearances and social media. They do not have the time to input quarterly accounts or to get to grips with so many new systems.”

The government’s Flat Rate Scheme is a means of simplifying tax calculations for traders. However, in April 2017, a higher rate increasing from 12% to 16.5% will apply to “limited cost traders”, i.e labour-intensive businesses, which could include authors, when the new rules come into force.

. . . .

The MTD proposals have sparked fears it will be those already on meagre incomes who are forced to pick up the cost of the changes, both in monetary terms and in time, potentially distracting from the business of writing. One SoA member, a full-time author, contributed anonymously to the SoA website saying it would be “unduly time-consuming, with no discernable benefit for HMRC” and “reduce my ability to concentrate on my writing”. Another member, Sheila Norton, said: “The thought of doing anything tax-related (however little it involves) four times a year instead of once still makes my heart race”.

Another, Leslie Wilson, said: “Many authors don’t earn what anyone could call significant amounts, and to have to fill in quarterly updates – which would indeed interfere with them working for their paltry earnings – is rather like adding insult to injury.”

. . . .

According to trade union The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), these MTD reforms will “significantly affect” authors who are self-employed, because they will need to install new, approved software and receive support and training – all at a cost. It estimates that quarterly submissions could escalate accountancy costs by as much as 400%.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The rise of Chinese sci-fi

4 January 2017

In 2015, Chinese Sci-fi hit the American literary scene when Ken Liu’s translation of The Three-Body Problem by Chinese author Cixin Liu received a Hugo Award and a Nebula nomination. These prestigious science fiction/fantasy honors see few works in translation, and until now, none had been Chinese. As the general public begins to follow the literary critics in their curiosity towards Liu’s work and others like it, I decided to write a two-part series on the rise of Chinese sci-fi. From the Asia Times.

. . . .

Science fiction has existed in China almost as long as it existed in the West. It began in the late-Qing Dynasty, with scholars translating the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells into Chinese. Among such translators was Lu Xun, the father of modern Chinese literature himself. Of course, tales of the strange and mysterious permeate Chinese literature from its ancient origins on, but the first work generally recognized as an original Chinese science fiction story was Colony of the Moon (月球殖民地). It was published as a serial from 1904 to 1905 under the pen name Huangjiang Diaosou (荒江钓叟), which means “Old Fisherman by a Deserted River.” Many other works were published during this early-twentieth-century period. The genre was perceived to have literary merit through its ability to incite interest among readers in the rapidly evolving fields of science and technology, in which China was involved in a game of catch-up.

. . . .

At the beginning of Mao’s Communist rule starting in 1949, the genre still flourished – so long as works reflected the party line. These works tended to be geared towards young readers, optimistic, and educational. Many Soviet era sci-fi works, such as those of Alexander Belyayev, were translated into Chinese at this time and influenced the genre. Major Chinese sci-fi authors of the era included Zheng Wenguang (郑文光) and Tong Enzheng (童恩正). Sci-fi took a blow, however, during the Cultural Revolution as creation of the arts all but ceased from 1966-1976, especially genres associated with the West like sci-fi. Lao She, author of the satirical work Cat Country from the Republic era was among the intellectuals targeted and humiliated by anti-bourgeoisie mobs, leading him to drown himself in a lake shortly thereafter.

. . . .

Sci-fi experienced a major revival after Mao’s death, now with some darker and broader themes from a generation of authors that grew up during the violence and tumult of the Cultural Revolution. This period also saw the popularization of sci-fi magazines, such as  Science Literature and Art (科学文艺), now known as Science Fiction World (科幻世界), one of the most successful sci-fi publications in the world in terms of number of readers. Cixin Liu appears on the scene beside Han Song and Wang Jinkang,“Three Generals of Chinese Sci-fi,” as part of this New Wave of sci-fi authors.

That takes us up to Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, which was serialized in Science Fiction World in 2006 and first published as a book in 2008. It wasn’t until 2014, however, that Chinese-American author Ken Liu tackled its translation and the novel began garnering international recognition. The Three-Body Problem is an example of hard sci-fi, where fantasy is rooted in actual advanced scientific knowledge (the title refers to a physics phenomenon involving the gravitational forces of three celestial bodies). The novel opens with a scene from the Cultural Revolution and then flashes forward a couple decades to a time when the world’s leaders and militaries are faced with a mysterious virtual reality game and an impending alien invasion. Hapless nanomaterials scientist Wang Miao finds himself caught in the middle of it all.

Link to the rest at Asia Times

Here’s a link to The Three Body Problem.

The Murakami Effect

4 January 2017

From LitHub:

Translation is a kind of traffic, in nearly every sense of the word. There’s the most obvious sense, in that translations cross borders of time, place, and culture, moving from one language into another.

But traffic’s other meaning—that is, the buying and selling of goods—also applies. Translators themselves can be said to traffic in words, sounds, images, and more; whether what is trafficked is tangible or intangible, it’s implied that what is bought, sold, and bartered is in any case commodified. When we think about traffic we also inevitably think about congestion, about impediments to smooth circulation—of vehicles, of course, but also, by extension, of ideas and things. While translations do cross borders, broadening our cultural knowledge as they present one language in the terms of another, they can also become an impediment to free communication. As a translator of contemporary Japanese fiction, I’ve seen both the flow and the congestion, and have witnessed at close range the unintended consequences—and our lack of control as translators—when it comes to the way our texts move or fail to move across borders.

For the past decade or so I’ve been working on what is essentially an ethnography of the publishing industry, primarily in Tokyo and New York, and the way the intersection—and often the collision—of aesthetic and economic considerations influences what gets translated, how it is translated, and how it is marketed and consumed in another literary context. That is, ultimately, how the traffic of translation is subject to the larger economic concerns of the publishing industry, and how these concerns shape a canon of literature in translation that may bear little resemblance to that in the source literature and culture, but that comes to play an important role in the way that culture or nation is perceived in the national imagination of the target culture.

So, for example, reducing the argument to its simplest terms, in the 1950s and 60s, Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata were translated, marketed, and read in the US as representatives of a newly docile, aestheticized, Zen-like Japanese culture that was explicitly meant (by translators and publishers and perhaps policy experts as well) to replace the bellicose wartime image of Japan, as Edward Fowler has argued. This was one piece of a general rehabilitation strategy for the country in concert with promoting its new role as a reliable ally in the US Cold War calculus. At the same time, however, this image bore little resemblance to the positions Kawabata and Mishima often occupied in the domestic Japanese literary canon or marketplace.

. . . .

But first it’s helpful to take a close look at the example of Murakami, in order to see some of the ways literary traffic is affected by and, in some cases, radically altered by the economic considerations that accompany the movement of literary products through global markets. Translation, in this context, is no longer the activity of a single individual—the one traditionally known as the “translator”—but is altered and inflected by numerous other actors. I think of all this as “translation discourse”—that is, the tacit conversations between and negotiations among translators and, in no particular order, literary agents, editors, publishers, copy editors, jacket designers, marketing managers, sales representatives, book reviewers, and others who, in one way or another, have a say in what gets chosen for translation, who is chosen to translate it, how it gets translated, how it gets edited, how it gets marketed, and who, ultimately, will be likely to read it—and even how they are likely to react to it.

Link to the rest at LitHub

Kobo becomes new technology partner at the tolino alliance

3 January 2017

From the Kobo Newsroom:

  • Deutsche Telekom sells the tolino ecosystem to Kobo
  • The tolino alliance welcomes leading global e-reading provider Kobo as its new technology partner
  • tolino remains eReading brand for the German-speaking region

Augsburg, Bonn, Hagen, Munich, Toronto, 2 January 2017 – The book retailers in the tolino alliance have a new technology partner. Rakuten Kobo Inc. from Canada, one of the world’s fastest-growing eReading service providers, will acquire the tolino technology platform from Deutsche Telekom at the end of January 2017 to become the new technology partner of the tolino alliance. The corresponding contracts have been signed. The founding book retail partners of the tolino alliance – Hugendubel, Thalia and Weltbild – are delighted to welcome Kobo as their new partner. It means that two of the leading providers in the global market for digital reading will be working closely together in future.

Deutsche Telekom looks back positively on the excellent collaboration with the book retailers. “We are proud to have contributed to tolino’s success as its technology partner. Together, we were able to make the tolino product an established name in the eReading market with its open ecosystem and tolino devices, which rank highly in many recognized tests. Having successfully developed a digital eReading ecosystem on an equal footing with strong US-based competitors, it is now the right moment for Deutsche Telekom to divest the platform business that we have built up over the last four years with substantial investment and effort. We are therefore delighted that the founding partners of tolino stand fully behind our decision to sell the tolino ecosystem to Kobo as the alliance’s new technology partner,” said Felix Wunderer, Vice President of ePublishing at Deutsche Telekom.

“Together with our partners from the German book trade, we intend to continue to enhance the tolino ecosystem for its many dedicated customers,” said Michael Tamblyn, CEO of Rakuten Kobo. “This acquisition allows us to bring Rakuten Kobo’s experience with collaborating with book retailers around the world to the tolino alliance. This is the coming together of two strong pure-play eBook platforms, and we look forward to bringing even more capability and competitiveness to the tolino offering. We look forward to working together as their technology partner to attract even more people from German-speaking countries to digital reading.”

Link to the rest at Kobo Newsroom

One example of PR speak that struck PG was:

Having successfully developed a digital eReading ecosystem on an equal footing with strong US-based competitors, it is now the right moment for Deutsche Telekom to divest the platform business that we have built up over the last four years with substantial investment and effort.

Even after making allowances for German-English translation, Deutsche Telekom appears to be saying:

  1. We spent a whole lot of money to build an ebook system as good as Amazon’s.
  2. So we’re selling it.
  3. Because this is the right time to dump this turkey onto Kobo.

Here’s a bit more from the press release:

“The handover of the ecosystem to Kobo is a sign of the advanced market development: Having found a perfect partner in Deutsche Telekom to establish the business, our next step with Kobo is to grow further and in particular to uphold and expand the international eReading standards,” according to Nina Hugendubel.

Of course, press releases are always crafted to put the best face on everything, but this seems strained. Should “upholding and expanding the international eReading standards” be a key goal for a profit-making enterprise?

Certainly, this is a shot at Amazon’s proprietary ebook format, but do readers care?

Is it a great burden to install a free Kindle app and a free Kobo app on a smartphone or tablet?

Plenty of consumers seem to be able to handle Pokémon GO and Candy Crush Saga at the same time.

Next Page »