Barnes & Noble News, and Speculation On The Future of Bookstores

News outlets report that B&N founder Leonard Riggio wants to buy out the retail assets of Barnes & Noble.

It strikes me that this could portend the return of "catalog stores", the way department stores (Sears, Wards) marketed themselves outside big urban areas many, many years ago.  These were smaller storefronts in smaller communities.  There might be some samples of popular goods, or even minature models of large items like furniture, but it particuarly gave people a venue where they could browse the big catalogs offering thousands of items (or come in with a list from their home-delivered catalogs) and order what they wanted.

With bookstores, it might work with a combo-type store.  Keep the coffee/cafe areas, where people can sit and relax.  Browsing books might be done in a variety of ways:  Bestsellers and highly marketed items might have the full books available, for people to be able to buy immediately.  Publishers might provide sample chapbooks containing anywhere from a few to 50 pages, excerpts from books being pushed but not as hard as the bestsellers.  There could be racks of publicity sheets for still other books for customers to browse through.

There'd also be plenty of electronic displays and kiosks.  Cafe tables would have built-in displays, or wi-fi for customers' own devices.  This enables still more browsing, with touch-screen access to further information or sample excerpts.

One easy thing to do with those displays is to display a shelf of books SPINE-OUT.  One of the annoying things about shopping for books online is that the screens always show the covers of the books.  That's one of the reasons I stil like to go to brick-and-mortar bookstores, where the vast majority of books are shelved spine-out.  When you're a frequent or complusive reader (and there are still quite a few of us), you have an awareness of what's going on in your preferred genres or areas of interest.  At a regular bookstore, I can browse through thousands of spine-out books, looking for familiar or interesting authors and titles, in a short period of time.  Doing the same with online, cover-out, displays takes... a LONG time.

Using touch-screen technology, you could touch a title on that spine-out display and convert it to a full-cover image.  Provide a button on that full-cover image, touch, and you get a more in-depth screen with jacket copy, reviews, excerpts, etc.

You choose a book you want, then what?  If you're a regular customer, you might have a customer card with a bar code/magnetic strip.  Have a card reader built into the display, and just swipe your card.  If you want an e-book version, and your portable device is wi-fi enabled, you can download it on the spot, with your account automatically billed.  If not, or you want a physical copy, the display might also be able to send your purchase info electronically to the front desk, or print out a physical receipt containing a bar code for your purchase.

You go to the front desk.  For e-books, the clerk hooks up your device to their server and downloads the book for you.  You're done and on your way.

If you want a hard-copy version of the book, these near-future bookstores will also have machines like the Exprsson Book Machine, capable of printing out and binding a hard-copy with 5-10 minutes.  Place your order, enjoy a cup of coffee and a doughnut, pick up your completed book, and you're done.

I'm not certain if this will best happen with a central, controlling retailer, or with franchise-type operations, or by a return of independent booksellers.  (There'd be smaller overhead for square footage, but larger overhead for equipment.)

The near-future bookstore wil need to combine the best attributes of both brick-and-mortar bookstores and the online book sites.  I think the above description comes pretty close.


Pastoral Catastrophe: The Stone Raft

Most disaster/catastrophe movies are action-filled, special effects extravaganzas.  The Stone Raft is not one of them.

Rather, it's a very human story, based on the novel by Jose' Saramago.  Even the disaster is well-behaved: When the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, breaks off the European continent and begins drifting out into the Atlantic Ocean, one might expect massive earthquakes and tremors to result.  Nope; it's smooth sailing, with two caveats: 1) The peninsula-turned-island is speeding up, and 2) it's on a collision course with the Azores.

That's the Big Weird of the story.  The human side involves five seemingly random people (and a dog) who've had Small Weirds happen to them at the same time the Big Split began.  There's a stick, a stone, a flock of birds, and a ball of yarn involved somehow.  The five people come together, wondering whether the small magic that's happened in their personal lives is related to the big magic that's affected the lives of millions.  They decide to travel to the Pyrenees mountains, where the rift began.

We see snippets, from television news and other sources, of elsewhere in Iberia, where there are riots, lootings, and attempts at evacuation; what one might expect from a standard disaster movie.  But the focus characters encounter little of that in their picareque travels across the countryside.  The focus in on their humanity, their coming together, their (almost) breakup, and their final success in reaching the rift and what occurs afterward.

This is clearly in the genre of Magic Realism, where character is paramount, rather than spectacle.   Saramago's best-known novel, Blindness, is another example where a Big Weird happens, and the focus is close in on the characters dealing with it.

I liked the movie quite a lot.  It reminded me of the New Zealand film The Quiet Earth, so if you liked TQE, you'll probably like The Stone Raft.  You might also try Saramago's novels, or, for a somewhat similar feeling from an American author, Nina Kiriki Hoffman.


Weird Science

So I got a Coke Zero out of the fridge, popped the top, and set it down beside the desk.  A few seconds later I looked over, and was surprised to see liquid bubbling out of the top.

(Flashing on memories of the old movie The Blob:  "It's alive!  And it's coming to eat me!")

What happened, as best as my 40-years-since-my-last-science-class mind understands it, is that the soda got cold enough in the fridge that it would have frozen if it had been in a glass.  (The old fridge in the utility room, where we keep sodas and other things that won't fit well in the kitchen fridge, tends to run cold.)  The pressure inside the can, however, kept actual ice from forming.  Once the lid was popped, slush started to form.  Because ice expands, the contents overflowed out the top.

I didn't get a shot of the can while it was overflowing.  I figured it was more important to slurp off the excess and wipe up what had already dribbled onto the counter.  But you can see, in the photo above, the slush that formed inside the can.


Today In. . . Wait, That's Arizona?

Something you don't see everyday, or even every year, in the Phoenix Metro area:

photo from KTAR, via Laughing Squid

Snow.  This is the 101 Freeway, near Indian Bend Road in Scottsdale.  It's actually not snow, it's "grauple", which sounds like something in a frat party's punch bowl mixed up from ingredients on hand, but is really a slushy mix of snow, hail and rain, but close enough to snow for these parts.

Scottsdale is in the northeastern part of Phoenix Metro.  Where we live, in north Glendale on the west side of town, we didn't get the grauple, only rain and a brief shower of pea-sized hail.  We were close to the site of the above photo this morning, driving thru rain to a doctor's appointment, but finished and got home before the weird stuff started falling.

The extra-weird part is the wild swing in weather within 24 hours.  Yesterday was shirt-sleeves and shorts weather, in the 70's.

One more picture.  Over at the edge of the southeast Phoenix Metro area, near where my mom and brothers live, are the Superstition Mountains of Lost Dutchman's Gold fame.  They're dramatic-looking things on ordinary days, but having snowfall gives them an additional snap.

photo by Steve Gotthart, via abc15.com

The Importance of Being Ernest

Over on Boing Boing, a recent post featured "Seven Writing Tips From Ernest Hemingway". One of the tips was:

"When you start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none. So you might as well use a typewriter because it is that much easier and you enjoy it that much more. After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so you can better it easier."
Inspired by Hemingway's words, and having no shame, I decided to practice my revision skills on that advice itself:

[my edit] "When you start to write you get all the kick; the reader gets none. So use a typewriter at first; it's much easier and you enjoy it more. After you learn to write, your object is to convey every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. Writing first with a pencil gives you an extra chance to improve, to see if the reader is getting what you want to convey. You get three chances: First when you read it over, a second chance when it is typed, and a third in the proof. One more chance to improve is a damned good advantage for a writer. It also stays fluid longer so you can better it more easily." [/my edit]
Fixed that for you, Ernie.

[Crosses "Rewrite Hemingway" off bucket list.]

Hemingway responds:
"The similarity ends at our beards."


Scooby-Doo Cereal and Mini-Size Milk-Bones: Do Not Confuse

Mini-Size Milk-Bones &
Scooby-Doo breakfast cereal

Even if the dumb dog biscuits are called MILK-bones, they take FOREVER to soften up with milk.

Full disclosure:  When I was about ten years old, I really did eat a regular size Milk-Bone.  (One of my older brothers dared me to.)

Yes, sometimes I eat kids' breakfast cereal.  Because being a responsible adult and eating my daily oatmeal occasionally gets tiresome.



WTF, Criterion?

This President's Day weekend, Hulu.com has made their Criterion Collection films available free, so I've been watching several movies I've wanted to see for a long time.

But what prompted this post was, while perusing the list of Critrion films available for viewing, I came across one called Equinox.  My reaction was to rear back in horror, going "Wha-a-a-a-a...?"

Way back in my mispent youth, when the local SF club CASFS was first being established, I was, for a while, the vice-president.  Like the National VP job, the position didn't have many official duties.  But one duty was to provide programming for the club meetings.  Sometimes this was discussion topics, sometimes audio (Bruce Dane provided tapes of the radio version of Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy for one meeting), sometimes films.

At one meeting, where I had planned to show a particular film, the video rental store (remember those?) didn't have that particular film available.  So I perused the shelves and spotted something that looked like it might be of interest as a substitute.  That was Equinox.  From the description on the box, it not only had Harryhausen-type animation, but... hey!... Fritz Leiber was in the cast.

Fritz Leiber
Fritz Leiber was always one of my favorite sf/fantasy writers.  He also came from an acting background (his father, Fritz Leiber Sr., was a Shakespearean actor).  I'd met him once, and had dinner with him and a group of other people at the 1975 Westercon.  Leiber was a striking-looking man, with a high forehead and a shock of snow-white hair.  So I was interested to see how he came across as an actor.

It's said an actor can only be as good as the script he has to work with.  Lieber only had a few(mercifully) brief scenes in Equinox.  The movie's MacGuffin was an Evil Book Of Evil Evilness; Leiber played the professor who had discovered the EBOEE, and his main scene (dialogue-free) was basically to express dumbstruck horror at the Evil Evilness inside the book.

That scene didn't require much acting, because I'm pretty sure the book contained the script for the rest of the movie.  The years have mercifully blotted out most of the details, but Equinox was one of the most purely awful movies I have ever seen.  Clunking story, bad dialogue, worse acting, the stop-motion segments were unimpressive, and the direction and cinematography were awful.  Everything about the movie screamed cheap, amateur, and shoestring.  (It started out life as a student project.)

Showing that movie at that club meeting was one of the most embarassing moments I can remember.  As the malformed, spavined thing clunked on and on, people there kept looking at me with "What were you thinking?" looks on their faces.  And I couldn't bring myself to turn off the video player, because I kept thinking that somewhere, at some point in the movie, there would have to be some redeeming social value.

There wasn't.

So when I saw Equinox included as part of the Criterion Collection of films, my reaction was one of understandable horror and confusion.  The Criterion Collection includes a lot of "art house" films, and I've found a goodly number of those to be... well, boring.  But even with those I haven't personally liked, I've been able to recognize that there's some distinguishing value to be found.

But Equinox?  Bloody Equinox?  Stinking, clunking, wretched, abominable, painfully bad Equinox?

Criterion, really, what the fuck were you thinking?

(I've heard it said that map publishers will deliberately insert one very minor error into their maps, so that if the map is copied by others, the counterfeit maps can be identified by the presence of that error.  Could the presence of one undeniably bad film among all the other Criterion selections be something similar?)

A Broken Heart For That Post-Valentine's Breakup


The Arm: First X-Rays

I finally got a copy of the x-rays from my original trip to the ER back in December.  This is what my shoulder looked like then.
Just to clear up any confusion, a shoulder is not supposed to look like that.  That has more in common with a train wreck than a normal shoulder.  Yeesh.
In other recovery news, started the "active" phase of physical therapy.  Discomfort and pain levels have gone back up, enough to start taking oxycodone again at night to sleep.  Improvement is slower than I'd like.  Also found out from my boss at work that if I don't recover enough strength and range of motion in that arm to be able to work without restrictions,I probably won't be able to return to the security work I was doing.  Whether I'd be able to move into some other position at the same company is questionable.  Life get complicated and uncertain.


The Attentat of Christopher Dorner

For anyone who's been in a coma this past week:  Ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner went on a killing spree in California, targeting other police officers and the daughter and daughter's fiance of the police captain who was appointed as Dorner's defense counsel against charges of making false claims against another officer, charges which resulted in Dorner's firing from the LAPD in 2008.  Dorner recently lost a final appeal of those charges.

Dorner, before starting his spree, posted a "manifesto" online.  The overall intent of the document seems to be a suicide note, in view of Dorner's expectation that he will be killed rather than taken alive.  Latter portions of the manifesto are a rambling series of shout-outs to and comments on celebrities and politicians he admired or despised, a last chance to say things he wants to say.

The earlier portions of the manifesto lay out Dorner's grievances against the LAPD.  Dorner had accused another LAPD officer of kicking a mentally ill person, who was already on the ground, in the chest and face.  The eventual result was that Dorner was charged with making false claims against that other officer, and lost his job over it.

Dorner's claim is that his accusations were truthful, that the police code-of-silence resulted in multiple perjuries by other officers, the counter-charges placed against him were false, and that his defense counsel's true priority was protecting the reputation of the LAPD rather than defending Dorner.

Dorner's justification for his killing spree, and promises of more to come, is that all legal pathways to justice had been corrupted, the LAPD was systemically corrupt, and that extra-legal techniques -- essentially "going to war" against the LAPD, particularly the officers who had been complicit in his firing -- was the only recourse left to him.

LAPD's stance on the killing spree is that it's the act of a deranged madman.


...it's difficult for a lot of people to not believe, and easy for a lot of people to believe, Dorner's claims of a coverup of the police brutality he'd reported.

In this specific incident, when the mentally ill person was released from jail, the person's father asked him what had happened to him.  What the person told his father was very close to the same events Dorner had reported, of an officer kicking him in the chest without cause.

So two different people reported, separately, the same events.

Add in the "code of silence" so common among police, where abuses and violations of policy go unreported, where beatings and shootings by police are always "justified", where protecting the jobs and reputations of police officers is always the top priority.

Add in that the Los Angeles PD in particular has a long past history of abuses and subsequent cover-ups.

It's easy to believe that Dorner was wronged.  It''s easy to believe the accusations he made against that other officer were true.  It's easy to believe that other officers closed ranks against him when he continued to press the issue.  It's easy to believe the "making false claims" charge filed against him was in itself false.  It's easy to believe he was railroaded.  It's easy to believe he was a good cop, betrayed by corrupt cops and pushed over the edge by that betrayal.

What Dorner is doing is an attentat, a "propaganda of the deed".  His particular case will end with his death, because the actions of the LAPD and other law agencies have made it clear that when they finally catch up to him, Dorner will die in a hail of bullets.  (The only question is how many innocent civilians will be shot and killed by police bullets before they do so.)

Dorner knows this.  His manifesto is, as noted above, essentially a suicide note.  But he wants the systemic corruption of the LAPD brought into public view.  And boy, has it!  The Internet is abuzz with people shocked by LAPD's shit-in-their-pants bullet-hosing of vehicles "similar" to the one Dorner was reported to be using, and expressing anywhere from sympathy for Dorner to outright approval of his actions.  The LA Times articles in particular seem to be garnering a lot of anti-police and pro-Dorner comments.

Wrong color, wrong size, wrong make, wrong model,
 occupied by two small Asian women rather than one big black guy.
"Close enough" for LAPD's finest to open fire.
In that regard, the "deed" has been successful in publicizing the "propaganda" to the public.  Does that justify Dorner's killings?  Certainly not when he targets not just the specific agents of his betrayal, but their families. 

But when is killing a cop justified?  Let's make a distinction here between "dirty cops" and "dingy cops".

When I consider the term "dirty cop", I think in terms of cops who take bribes, who steal, who get in bed with drug dealers, who do murder-for-hire on the side, cops whose actions are specifically criminal.  These are the undeniably corrupt cops.

Ideally, they'd be caught, tried, and sentenced to prison.  But if a dirty cop ends up in an alley with a bullet in his head... I'd be hard-pressed to shed a tear for him.

But what about the "dingy cops"?  These are the cops who look the other way when they see corruption and abuse by other officers, the cops who keep their mouths shut, the cops who will lie to protect fellow officers, the cops who honor the "code of silence".

That code is dysfunctional.  It enables and abets corruption and abuse.  It makes police into enemies of the public good, not its protectors.  Do "dingy cops" deserve to die?

Dorner has decided "Yes."  Dorner has broken that code, broken it with extreme prejudice and replaced it with his own code.  The message he is sending to the LAPD (and law-enforcement agencies in general) is simple: "If You Lie, You Die."

That's an extreme message.  But an attentat is always an extreme message.

That message shouldn't have to be sent.  The "code of silence" among police shouldn't exist; it's wrong, it's immoral, it's evil.  Nobody should have to die to challenge the existence of that code.

I hope there's a lot of soul-searching going on among individual officers, in the LAPD and elsewhere.  I hope they're thinking about what that code of silence has done to the institution and reputation of law-enforcement.  I hope they're thinking about how that code of silence has made so many citizens view them with suspicion, fear, and contempt.  I hope they're thinking about what following that code of silence has done to their own souls.

Because the only "good" ending to this whole affair won't be when Dorner is found and killed.  The only "good" ending will be if that code of silence becomes less endemic, less ingrained, less entrenched, and less acceptable.



Following up on the arm-related posts, today I was able to tie my own shoelaces for the first time in several months. Yay, progress!

Nothing like posting a photo online
 to make you realize how grimy your sneakers have gotten.
posted from Bloggeroid


The Arm: Achy Breaky Arm

Finally got to see my orthopedic doctor at Mayo on Monday.  He reviewed the x-rays from the operating surgeon, plus a fresh set done at Mayo, asked me a number of questions about my recovery and progress to date, and checked how much strength and motion I currently have in that arm.

The bad news is: I probably will not recover a full range of motion in my right arm.  Most of this is because of the limitations of the prosthetic joint that was implanted.  He also noted that the remaining portion of the head of the humerus was very slightly off from its ideal position, and may make it more difficult for the rotator cuff on that side to work perfectly.

(This is not a slam against the operating surgeon.  The results are well within "acceptable" range, just not ideal.  There's always going to be factors like how quickly the surgical site heals, how much scar tissue forms, and how much stress the healing limb is subjected to during healing that can affect how quickly and how well the arm recovers.)

I'll probably recover most of the arm's range of motion.  But the extreme end of that range will probably be gone.  One of the things I did before the accident was a set of dumbbell exercises that, when I did them regularly, kept me pretty well-toned.  (Full disclosure: I usually didn't do them that regularly.)  Some of those, particularly the military presses, won't be possible any more.

If I was still delivering mail for the Postal Service, I'd be screwed.  Sorting mail in the mornings, and delivering the rest of the day, both involved lots of long and high reaches.  If I hadn't taken retirement in 2008, and had broken the arm while working for USPS,  I'd almost certainly have had to switch crafts and work as a clerk instead of a letter carrier.

My current security job mostly doesn't involve many of those sort of motions, so I don't anticipate too many problems when I've recovered enough range and strength in that arm to go back to work.  I'll probably find a few, and have to figure a workaround for them.

In the meantime, the right arm is still pretty much a putz in regards to its current strength and range.  I started the more active phase of physical therapy on Tuesday.  Ouch, but that's how I'll get as much use back as I can.

I've also been told I should start using the sling less during the day, and try to use it mostly when I'm sleeping.  The hand and forearm are back close to normal, so freeing them from the sling lets me use them for (lightweight) tasks. (Starting to do a little typing with the right hand again, though I try to keep some sort of support under my elbow when I do.  I was getting pretty good at left-handed typing.)  Push that a little too far, though, and I get some sharp pains in my upper arm and shoulder, so I'm being careful.

Prognosis: Aching with occasional painstorms, with clearer weather expected eventually.  Continued improvement, more slowly, more painful, less complete than I would have preferred.  So it goes.


The Beard Is Back

One of the few benefits of breaking my arm and being off work for several months: I can let my beard grow back for the duration.