Saturday, December 17, 2011

NewsLink, Sydney Airport, Australia

The NewsLink books and convenience store at the Sydney International Airport. Michael Connelly's latest, The Drop, and Isaac Walterson's Steve Jobs were among the prominently placed tomes.

NewsLink Pty Ltd (or LS travel retail Asia Pacific - formerly known as Lagardère Services Asia Pacific) is an Australian company responsible for providing convenience items and travel products in airports and train stations in AustraliaChinaHong KongSingaporeTaiwan, and Fiji. []

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sydney Opera House, Australia

This is a photo of the Sydney Opera House - also a World Heritage Site, as seen from my hotel room at the Sydney Harbour Marriott at Circular Quay.

The views from the other side of the bay, the Admiralty House, are spectacular, as can be seen from so many  other photos of the building. As seen from the hotel, the photo can only hint at the marvelous beauty of this structure.

And this is the room from where I took the photo of the Opera House. The room's not bad at all, but then, it's like any other good hotel room.

I shot this photo below, again from the hotel room, at about 6AM local time. As you can see, while it was supposed to be summer (middle of November) - because in the southern hemisphere November is summer, but the skies were overcast, there was nary a trace of the sun, and there was a strong hint of rain in the evening. Which is just as well. I did not have any time to even step out of the hotel and do sightseeing, so this suited me just fine. It would have been awful to have been inside an office while the weather outside was warm, sunny, and inviting.

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© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Cheap by Ellen Ruppel Shell

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, by Ellen Ruppel Shell

Excellent and inexpensive (not cheap!) except for the isolated broadsides against capitalism and globalization

A very engaging journey through the history of cheap, from shops to malls to outlets to sales to IKEA to shrimps to globalization. Ignore the brief denunciations of capitalism and globalization and this is a five-star book. Thankfully much of the globalization phillipic is isolated at the beginning and end.

This book argues that cheap is different from a bargain. Cheap implies lack of longevity, lack of craftsmanship, and hidden costs that are sometimes not apparent till several years or decades after the purchase. Globalization is an imperative and inevitable but its costs are heavy. The book covers territory that is expected - the beginnings of the discount retail culture, but which requires a journey into the years following American independence to understand the underpinnings of cheap - standardization and industrialization. The insidious strategy behind outlet malls is an eye-opener. The psychology of sales, rebates, and coupons is also discussed by looking at how the mind works and responds to sales (answer: when confronted with sales we don't think much, and the little thinking that we do do is muddled and confused).  When you talk about cheap you have to talk about superstores, food, IKEA, and China. India too gets a mention, but it is China that is today the manufacturing outsourcer to the world. The book does not cover "cheap" in the context of software, else India would have received its share of, err, attention. The industrialization of food has been covered in the definitive classic of our times, "Fast Food Nation", but there is new and relevant information to be found here - shrimp farming in Thailand and the havoc it has wreaked on the economies and the environment in those countries for one. The author also argues that it is the expansion of the global and interconnected labor force that has actually done the American worker more harm than good. By flattening the world, and making outsourcing feasible and economical, the American worker has been shorn of bargaining power.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

The Brass Verdict, by Michael Connelly (Kindle e-book, Flipkart, my user review on
Gripping page-turner
4 stars
Rich guy of dubious innocence, a double-murder, and Michael Haller again in the middle of it. This book is also a page-turner, though, reading it very soon after "The Lincoln Lawyer", the pace and narrative felt familiar. Life for Haller, our competent but flawed lawyer, is trying to pick his practice up, when a lucky break, in the form of a murder of a former colleague of his, lands an entire practice in his hands. With that practice comes the case of Walter Elliot. Elliot is accused of murdering his wife and her lover. Forensic tests confirm gun powder residue on Elliot's hands. But is he really guilty? The murder weapon has not been found. Furthermore, there is the question of a possibly tainted juror, an FBI interest in the case, and a detective, Harry Bosch, who may be using Haller as bait. Bosch and Haller share a tense relationship through the novel, trying to figure out how much to reveal and to what extent to keep their cards close to their chests.
There is, expectedly, ample ink devoted to the courtroom in the form of jury selection, how and when to exercise the right to strike a juror, expert witnesses, and more. The setting is the city of angels, Los Angeles, and the author evidently likes, if not loves, the city enough to bring the reader into the city.

A satisfying read.

Kindle Excerpt:

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Barnes and Noble, Redwood City

The Barnes and Noble bookstore in Redwood City, California (store link). As opposed to earlier visits to different Barnes and Noble bookstores, the store this time felt a bit sparse, and a little less lively. Maybe it is a sign of the times, what with traditional booksellers fighting an increasingly losing battle first against online vendors, and now against e-books themselves.

Their non-fiction bestsellers rack had a lot of familiar titles, including the latest by Michael Lewis, "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World", "That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back" by Thomas Friedman, "Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever" by Bill O'Reilly.

The bargain priced shelves are always fun to browse. You can also sometimes find really good bargains that you like, like a Calvin and Hobbes collection, or a "Far Side" book, or jigsaw puzzles.

The Barnes and Noble book store entrance faces the North-West in the building at the bottom.

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© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.