September 7th, 2013

A Purple Straw Hat

Further complaining: word choice

Really, it is solidly downhill at this point. Foster is quoting Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom!

"... Miss Coldfield in the eternal black which she had worn for forty-three years now, whether for sister, father, or nothusband none knew ..."

Here's Foster: "Who is a "nothusband"?" Okay, Foster. That's what my not-brother-in-law is to my sister. He's been known to call her his not-wife. I have referred to him, when telling stories about what-happened-on-vacation, as my sister's not-husband. In _Miss_ Coldfield, dressed in black, she mourned a bunch of dead people and never really stopped, including at least one man she loved but didn't marry before he died.

Think that's a fluke? Alas.

"Think about the "biding", "dreamy," "victorious" dust. How is dust ever victorious or biding, to say nothing of dreamy? The answer is, it never was."

Okay, I have NEVER read Faulkner (well, maybe a page or two), certainly not Absalom, Absalom! I don't intend to, ever. But "biding" dust is obviously dust waiting for the perfect moment to humiliate you by being visible to a critical eye, or induce a sneeze in the allergic person you want to feel at home, or make a mark on an outfit just as you are about to leave for an important event. _Biding_ dust makes perfect sense. Dust, by its very nature, _bides_, and we let it, because if we fight it by constantly seeking it and eliminating it, it will ultimately prove _victorious_: we can never, ever, ever be vigilant or diligent enough housekeepers to win out over dust, however temporarily.

As for dreamy, if you've never watched the motes in sunshine, well, the fuck with you. You have no imagination whatsoever..

He gets another chapter and then he's out the door. It's actually a highly readable summary of the topic, but his specific opinions are so asinine that I now realize I was, perhaps, overly critical of English teachers in high school. I think they might all be like this. (<-- Okay, THAT was a joke. I'm complaining about his overgeneralizations about where meaning is and isn't and how it is constructed and I just did it, too. See? Not just me being like him. I Mock.)
A Purple Straw Hat

Thomas C. Foster, _How to Read Novels Like a Professor_, not a review

This is technically Not a Review, because I only read the first half. I bought it in paperback, probably around 2008, probably for two reasons. (1) I wanted to review the basics of reading novels critically, with a view to having that in my repertoire during book group. (2) It has a positive sentence by Nicholas Basbanes on the back. In retrospect, that sentence was maybe NOT a good thing to base a purchase on. “Dante had his Virgil; for everyone else, there is Thomas Foster.”

Ouch.

I read the first half of _How ..._ as part of my Read or Release project. I’ve concluded that I really do hate paper as a medium for reading books. I’m sending all the paper books I have read and enjoyed to my sister or other interested parties; the rest are part of Read or Release: either give them up pre-emptively, without reading, or really, for real, like right now, one at a time, Read the Damn Things. I’m keeping some things around for reference (I know, seems stupid in the age of Google, but for some things it still makes sense).

I am live-blogging the reading of (some/many of) these books, which in this case means I have been Complaining. Foster’s writing style is highly engaging, which is why I made it 137 pages into an increasingly irritating book. Foster’s selections are not entirely white male writers, but his exceptions are people like Agatha Christie and Jane Austen (Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein -- and the space devoted to the White Males is much more substantial than that devoted to the Women. It's even worse when it comes to writers of color). Worse, he refers to Hawk, Spenser’s friend who is black, as an “emblem”, right up there with Sherlock’s pipe, Nero Wolfe’s orchids, etc. I cannot bring myself to quote what he has to say about Molly Bloom.

Foster’s treatment of the basics of reading novels critically is okay. It’s not great -- he’s prone to ridiculous overgeneralizations and assertions which are not only on the face of them untrue, entire current hot subgenres are being built upon subverting them, so you would sort of think a professor in this area might be interested, you know, kinda watching the Art in Action, type of thing (<-- sarcasm. I know professors aren’t, by definition, interested in new developments. Sometimes people who are professors are interested, but professors are there to retain access to and understanding of what we used to know, not what we are currently doing now.). You would be much better reading E.M. Forster’s _Aspects of the Novel_, at least, I remember liking that treatment a lot better and this Foster quotes Forster on characterization, and this Foster kinda sucks when describing characterization, altho he’s worse on word choice. [edited because I had E.M. Foster when it should have been and now is E.M. Forster]

I really should have stopped over the implicit sexism, but like a fool I continued until I hit a few paragraphs about Hemingway’s _The Son Also Rises_, that made me go, wow, you _are_ going to point out how antisemitic that is, right? Nope. In fact, Foster writes: “Robert Cohn, the friend Jake detests, sins against the tribe in various ways. He’s privileged (a Princeton graduate), successful among men still struggling to establish themselves, Jewish among Gentiles, left out of the experience of warfare, excessively earnest, insufficiently guarded.” In the next paragraph, “The 1920s … could have been called the deracinated age.”

Okay, so it’s bad to say anti-heroes don’t predate the twentieth century; that erases Moll Flanders. That’s bad. Real bad. Sexist, ignoring historical context, just not knowing the material -- I don’t care what the explanation is, but Moll Flanders removal from an anti-hero list is Wrong. But if you then describe a wildly antisemitic characterization (and it sounds like the novel almost revolves around the assimilated Jew representing all that is most hateful about bourgie society) as indicating a deracinated age? I don’t know what you’re up to, but I won’t participate.

Don’t waste your time. This one goes into the recycle bin. Pity -- Foster's writing style really pulls the reader along.
A Purple Straw Hat

_Cash Box_, Tom Harper and Bernardo Batiz-Lazo

Subtitled: The Invention and Globalization of the ATM.

It's what I grew up calling a "coffee table book": a little under a foot wide and just under 9 inches top to bottom. Full color illustrations throughout. The text is run as a single, wide column with deep margins, some of which contain side bars and/or photos, but there's also a lot of just shiny white space going on.

The cover and front matter and so forth is solid log-rolling. The recommendation on the back is by Mike Lee of the ATMIA, which was founded by Harper, who hired Lee. That's just the most obvious example.

There are occasional typos in the book (the one that really stood out is Mintel, where I think they meant Minitel), but they are rare. Given their solidly global description of the ATM, they had a lot of opportunity to get words wrong in other languages and they managed to avoid that, at least as near as I can tell. The cover is a little annoying, because they printed the photo of a photoshopped cashbox reversed, and it sort of grated on me because the whole thing _felt_ wrong until I realized what they did. The book is expensive: $74 on Amazon (FBA, so if you have Prime, that really is the extent of the cost) and appears to be sold by its publishers. I half suspect this is actually a marketing tool for ATMIA, but I'm not sure.

They do a nice job of covering the technical, legal, regulatory and social history of ATMs, once you take into consideration how much text there is, or rather isn't. This is a short book, but the pictures are genuinely useful.

The weakness, of course, lies in the authors commitment to the continuing success of the business their trade association represents. They find themselves arguing that cash is necessary because if you didn't have it, then something like a third of the economy wouldn't be able to continue (that is, the part of the economy which evades taxation by operating entirely in cash, which is universal, but the actual fraction varies from place to place, which they actually recognize and do a nice job of depicting). Further, cash is necessary, because, you know, power outages and other disasters. They also think of the anonymity and privacy of cash as one of its compelling features, neatly dodging the appeal of traceability not only to governments seeking tax evaders or drug dealers, but also to people who misplace their funds intentionally or otherwise.

So: expensive, short, biased, BUT extremely worth reading, especially if you are thinking about payment systems and whether/when we will completely ditch the folding green stuff and metal plugs. This book is _not_ disciplined by what it means by cash (certainly not as disciplined as Wolman was in his book), but they see the current hybrid world as extending indefinitely into the future, and by trying to join them in that hope, the reader has a really meaningful opportunity to try to figure out what other payment systems would have to provide to finish getting rid of the paper and metal bits.

ETA: Oh, did I mention that early cash boxes had a player-piano style paper tape phase and then later 60 col Hollerith punch cards? I did not. Such a lapse!
A Purple Straw Hat

A Bit More about ATMs, Cash Use and the future of Paper Money

_Cash Box_ barely got into cash recycling, which is a pity, because I had only just heard about it and was hoping for details, since the book is current.

One of the costs associated with cash for banks is moving the folding stuff around. In earlier phases of cash machines, they had to have new bills, but current generations actually don't like new bills; they like stuff that's been around a few times but not too many times. One of the things noticeable about the mobile experience in India, Kenya and elsewhere is that mobile phones are enabling a relatively small number of bills to circulate within a region a whole lot more: you get some cash, you go deposit it right away at a shop, the shop withdraws it immediately, the physical stuff crosses the counter, everyone is happy because everyone has a Real Bank as a counter party and the paper keeps moving instead of being parked somewhere for hours or days or months.

Some independently operated cash machines (and apparently some bank cash machines as well) are Cash Recyclers. Old Skool machines would take cash in an envelope if at all; it was a separate path from dispensing functions. The latest (and most expensive?) machines will now actually take the deposited cash and stick it in the dispensing cassettes, so the machine -- if deposits stayed roughly equivalent to withdrawals -- might not need to be serviced by a courier for quite a long while.

I'm not sure if this is happening yet, but it seems at least possible that a business with an ATM -- a bar, a Dunkin' Donuts, a c-store -- that allowed cash deposits might work really well, if it let the business avoid having to go to the bank to do a cash drop. They could cash drop into the ATM. Do the deposit On Premise, so to speak, thus avoiding the run with its attendant mugging risks. Best of all, if someone robs the ATM (say, by attaching a big chain to a truck and dragging it through the parking lot), it's not even the business' money anymore.

That's sort of what I'm trying to figure out. If this is true, then M-Pesa and similar could be a massive market for ATM machines in the future (especially if things like the Vortex ATM, with lower power requirements and solar features becomes widespread). The authors of _Cash Box_ seem to be thinking along these lines. But somehow, whenever I follow that line of logic (not to mention the Wells Fargo machines at McMurdo Station), I keep thinking "ATMs in Space!". Which just seems ridiculous.

Diebold's Cash Recycler options:

http://www.diebold.com/products-services/atm-self-service/terminals/cash-recycler/Pages/default.aspx

This isn't new stuff; Euro Zone regulations about not allowing suspected counterfeits to circulate slowed deployment there slightly -- here's an article about that issue being dealt with in 2003.

http://www.atmmarketplace.com/article/135818/ATM-cash-recycling-clears-regulatory-hurdles

ETA: Wolman, in _The End of Money_, talks about more and more countries thinking about or actually getting rid of sovereign currency, either by just allowing the dollar to circulate freely or by joining a currency union or whatever. He also thinks that cash may or may not ever go away, but will likely become increasingly used for low-value transactions and otherwise marginalized. If you put those two trends together, along with the popularity of the Euro and the US dollar as a store of value, it would seem to imply that at some point, only one or two physical currencies will be left, not because they "won" in a competition, but because everyone else decided they'd quit a losing game.