The Death of a Bookshop

The signs.

“Buy 1 book get 3 free!”

“70% off on all books”

Empty shelves. Unkempt books. The last remains of a once popular bookshop. The couches and beanbags tossed to a side.

Second hand dealers making away with carton loads of books, emptying the shelves as we browse. The death rattle for what was once a bustling refuge for the lettered class of society.

I had never watched a bookshop close in this fashion before. Imagine the state of Foyles in London if that were to close in this way. It seems to me only a matter of time. Amazon will claim many more lives in the coming years.

The scenes I describe are not in London , but India. The bookshop I saw closing is not a cute little independent seller, but a large chain. But the signs are disconcerting nonetheless.

Though I hope the death of the bookshop may take a while, when it does come it may in fact be worse in London than what I saw. In Kochi I saw vultures – not browsing but taking – books in cartons which may then be resold somewhere and have another life. In London when this does happen, I feel there will not even be any interest from the dealers since they would have long vanished themselves. It would be a quiet affair. There will be offers :

All books for free. Everything must go.

Note: This post was written in September 2013, when a remarkably similar post seems to have been written about My Back Pages in Balham, London.

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We need an oil company kickstarter campaign!

Growing up, there were things which people always associated with investment. But I don’t feel any sense of security when putting my money in any of these things any more.

Gold, that shiny thing you can’t do anything with, seems like a thing with false value. You have to attribute value to something portable and some man thought “Oh! I know, lets pick gold – because its actually quite useless”. If aliens visit earth and see our love for this metal with the colour of light faecal matter, they’ll be laughing like a Malayali actor after one of his few mediocre comedy scenes.

Shares are the next thing. With a number of companies from the industry I work in going public over the last year, I’ve been seriously considering this. But its a bit like gambling. A fake science. You can never truly predict how a company is going to do – you just have to make a guess with what you know. Someone somewhere who knows more than you then makes a better guess and you lose your money. I’m not as pessimistic about this as I seem when I write this – a bit of gambling is fun.

Then we come to saving in currency. You invest your money in a currency which you think is going to go up with respect to another. But whats to say that after putting your money in a dollar bond (or whatever its called) for a 5 year period, the value of the dollar drops? Its guesswork. Why is it that people haven’t yet figured out a sure shot way of preserving the value of saved money using capitalism?

I think the best investment for a 10 year period that you can make is in oil. The value of black gold is real. People will still be using it and the amount of oil left is going to decrease driving prices ever higher. The only problem with buying oil now as an investment seems to be the difficulty in actually storing it somewhere without it evaporating.

I wonder if there is a way in which I can pre-order some oil at today’s prices for 10 years later. An oil company (which works like a co-op maybe) can use that money to drill new fields. I know – lets have it on kickstarter –  an oil company that will give oil at current prices a few years in the future 😛

Why girls code in some places and not in others

Programming has always been seen as a boy-thing in the US and UK. Wendy Hall explains why Indian girls seem to not suffer from this gross and inaccurate generalization. What went wrong in the UK/US?

she says:

In earlier years, up to a third of the students studying computer science at the university had been women. But in the mid-1980s the new personal computers such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro began to emerge. There was very little you could do on them except program in BASIC or assembly code, or play the limited set of games that was available for them – mainly war games. As a result, they were marketed as toys for boys and we managed to dissuade 50 per cent of the population from working with computers in the space of half a decade. We’ve never recovered from that. The same is true in the US and many other parts of Europe.

I was in India in January. There, young girls see computing as a career destination of choice and are so excited about the possibilities of being part of this industry. I was privileged to spend time with some wonderful young women who made up 50 per cent of the computer science class in the college I was visiting. We just dream of such numbers here in the UK.

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Why is Everything so ‘Random’?

I am guilty.

I am an incredibly randomized person.

I have more than one folder on my computer named random. I have a few facebook photo albums named random-this and random-that and I use the word, consistently, at least once a day in conversation. In fact, I had sudden urges to use the word random in different places in the last sentence. Its a word I find had to replace in my vocabulary.

I used to love you, random. But now I have had enough. And so have a lot of others. There are plenty of hate pages on facebook and I can see people cringe every time use the word in random  conversation.

Maybe I should take some of the advice offered in this essay by Jeremy Benishek and Kyle Romeis and

….. start using words like absurd, spontaneous, ridiculous, baffling, miscellaneous, etc. in place of random. This might help us break the habit of using random wherever we damn well please, particularly where it doesn’t belong.

PS: I should learn to start sentences and paragraphs with words other than ‘I’.