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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Witch of Wall Street


Yes, it is no less than Hetty Green, born in New Bedford in its whaling heyday, heir of a fortune made mostly from whaling, and known by a number of nicknames -- America's First Female Tycoon, The World's Greatest Miser, The Queen of Skinflints -- but "The Witch of Wall Street" is the one that has stuck.

Did she merit her miserly reputation? It seems so, but there is much to admired.  She was a financial genius, turning the $7,500,000 she inherited at the age of thirty until an estate worth up to two million by the time she died, in 1916. 

However, as her short biography on the New Bedford Whaling Museum website describes, it is due to her son, Colonel Green, that the Charles W Morgan, the last of the wooden whaling ships, has survived.

There is a fuller biography in the latest Smithsonian, which is well worth reading for more about this truly fascinating woman.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Selling in China



A big moment for me was when a charming Chinese woman approached me in New Zealand to sign her Chinese language copy of Tupaia.

Years ago, the big dream for a Kiwi author was to sell in the United States.  It is still a staple market -- but how long is that going to last?

In August, we were on a small cruise ship out of Bora Bora, in the Tahitian Islands, when an American asked the lecturer, "What kind of impact is China having in the Pacific?"

The audience was mostly American, most of them business people, so you can imagine the massed intake of breath when the lecturer said, "Huge."

I can attest to that myself.  The flow of Chinese investment in the Pacific is breathtaking.  The islands are experiencing a boom like never before. Hotels, roads, office buildings are sprouting on palm-shaded beaches, all with Chinese signs.  The Chinese love the Pacific, and, increasingly, businesses in the Pacific are selling aggressively in Chinese markets.

Interestingly, today there was a news item in our local paper about Chinese entrepreneurs selling cheap red wine under the prestigious Penfolds label.  As the Sydney Morning Herald reported,  it is not a small operation. Shanghai police have seized 14,000 bottles of fake Penfolds wine being sold by counterfeiters in China.The fake Penfolds wine was being sold through Alibaba's online flea market Taobao, as well as pubs and karaoke bars. 

The three-month investigation followed a complaint to Alibaba by Australian wine company Treasury Wine Estates that suspicious retailers were charging "extraordinarily low prices" for Penfolds wine in its fastest growing market. Alibaba called in police, who said at a press conference on Wednesday that 13 suspects had been detained, including Mr Dai, a wine dealer who was selling fake Penfolds for 200 yuan ($40) per bottle online, while it should retail for 600 to 3000 yuan ($120 to $595).

That is a breathtaking price!  In New Zealand one can buy a case of very nice Penfolds wine for about the same money.  No wonder Mr Dai was tempted to stage the scam -- and no wonder Australian and New Zealand winemakers are marketing in China. Demand there increased by 33% last year.

And it is not just wine. A Shanghai-based marketing consultant, Matthew McKenzie, turned a local breakfast food, "Weet-Bix" into a hit in China,  Our local Weet-Bix manufacturer, Sanitarium, sends 125,000 boxes of the breakfast food to China every month, and expects the craze to escalate -- Chinese will shell out as much as $50 for a box that costs us about six.  




"There are fake products in every channel," said McKenzie -- from dishwashing liquid to infant formula.  But the market had to be established in the first place, and it seems that Australian and New Zealand businesses are doing that very well.

America might sell planes and armament, and brag about "the art of the deal," but it seems that the Pacific is quietly taking over in the family homes of China.  And that includes books.  In 2015, at the Beijing Book Fair, 40% of the sales were acquisitions from abroad -- and the rate is increasing.  There are problems for the Indie author, though.  Print books must have a government-issued ISBN.  Digital books sell for about a fifth of what they fetch on Amazon.com.  And, as with the wine, there is the problem of piracy. But the market is huge, well worth exploring.

And it seems that it is the way of the future.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Macmillan shuts down its Indie publishing arm


Publishers Weekly's Booklife reports that Macmillan has abruptly shut down its self-publishing arm, "Pronoun," with the loss of an unknown number of jobs.

Originally launched in 2009 as Vook, an early e-book and interactive content production platform, the company pivoted in 2015 and relaunched itself as a self-publishing platform under the direction of Josh Brody.

In May 2016 the company, now called Pronoun, was acquired by Macmillan, and Brody was kept on board as president. Ben Zhuk, Pronoun chief product officer, was also retained and named v-p of product for Macmillan.

But it did not work well, it seems, because earlier this year both Brody and Zhuk left the company.  It was the beginning of the end, a situation confirmed by Jeff Seroy, senior v-p of publicity and marketing at Macmillan's Farrar Straus and Giroux unit.

Asked why Pronoun was being shuttered 18 months after the acquisition, Seroy said despite Macmillan investment in the platform and “terrific” feedback from Pronoun authors, “we came to the conclusion that there wasn't a path forward to a profitable business model and decided to shut down the platform.”

And so it ends, leaving an unknown number of frustrated Indie authors, and a raft of unanswered questions.

Macmillan being a distinctly conservative publisher, it was more surprising that the company acquired Pronoun in 2016, than that it has shed it mere months later.

For a traditional publisher to dip a toe in the new world of self-publishing is odd to start with.  The best explanation is that if the arm sponsors an author whose work zooms into the bestseller ranks, she or he is an author who has been already captured.  But that is a gamble with very long odds indeed.

And it doesn't seem financially promising.  Indie authors who publish with Pronoun in print are competing with a stable of regular authors, who would obviously get the cream of marketing and promotion.  In digital, Amazon dominates the market, and Smashwords is a better entry for the newbie in the self-publishing world. Added to that are swept-up operations like Draft2Digital, which specialize in producing a quality product which is taken up by a whole raft of online digital book stores, like Kobo.

Plus, most importantly, while digital books quickly seized about 25% of the market, that fraction has not improved, and may even be declining, as print books regain their popularity.

You can read Macmillan's closing statement here.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography revived -- with Tupaia


An iconic publication lives again


Revived with an exciting maiden entry

This week Te Ara marks an important milestone: the publication of the first new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entry since 2011. Joan Druett has written a new entry on the Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, the subject of her award-winning biography published in 2011. We’re delighted to announce that this marks the beginning of a new phase in the life of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.
The Dictionary was originally published in five print volumes between 1990 and 2000, under the general editorship of W.H. Oliver and later Claudia Orange. It comprised biographies of more than 3000 people who had risen to prominence before 1960 and died before the publication cut-off date of 1998. No living person was eligible for inclusion. Separate volumes reprinted the biographies of the nearly 500 Maori subjects in te reo Maori, which together with the te reo sections of Te Ara constitutes the largest Maori-language publishing programme ever conducted.
In late 2001 all the biographies were made available online, with a team of researchers locating images and in some cases audio and video recordings to illustrate the essays. In 2010 the online biographies were relaunched as part of Te Ara, with the biographies and encyclopedia entries enriching and amplifying each other. Fifteen new biographies were added to Te Ara in 2010–11.
Happily the Dictionary’s time has come again, and from 2018 onwards we will release a small batch of new biographies annually. The first round will place the spotlight on a number of high-achieving women, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Subsequent rounds will illuminate the lives of significant and representative people from a cross-section of New Zealand society, with a focus on the decades after 1960. The new biographies will be released online only.
We’re still working through the details, but the new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography will honour the tradition of rigorous and broad-ranging scholarship established by the Dictionary’s original editors, staff, working groups and authors. They have left big shoes to fill.



Saturday, November 4, 2017

World's Best Airline - yet again


From Yahoo News

For the fifth consecutive year, Air New Zealand has been named the “Airline of the Year” in the U.S. by AirlineRatings.com. Various factors were taken into consideration, but the carriers record-breaking financial performance helped it to beat out competitors. Despite earnings before taxes falling to $527 million in 2017 from $663 million in 2016, the airline still experienced its second-most highest earnings in the company’s history.
In addition to profits, Air New Zealand also took the top spot thanks to in-flight innovations, environmental leadership, safety, and a young fleet of aircrafts. It also doesn’t hurt that New Zealand has been experiencing a tourism boom. In the last year, 3.7 million international tourists have visited the island nation so far this year, up 9% from 2016.
Air New Zealand was also named as the airline with the Best Premium Economy. Singapore Airlines won for Best First Class experience, Virgin Australia won for Best Business Class experience, and Korean Air won for Best Economy Class.

The 10 best airlines in the world

AirlineRatings.com also identified the top 10 airlines in the world. After Air New Zealand, Qantas and Singapore airlines rounded out the top three. The rest of the list includes in their respective rank: Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Etihad Airways, All Nippon Airways, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.
In order to make this list, airlines must achieve a seven-star safety rating and demonstrate leadership in innovation for passenger comfort.
By now you’ve noticed that no U.S. carriers made the list, which is disappointing, but not surprising. U.S. carriers also did not rank on last year’s list.
Perhaps the focus on “passenger comfort” is what keeps legacy airlines like American, Delta, and United from getting mentioned. U.S. carriers have made many changes with their economy class seats in the past two years: They shrunk the size of seats and positioned  them closer together. American Airlines announced that their new 737-Max jet planes would feature three rows of economy seats with a pitch (the distance between seats) of 29 inches. The current pitch of similar-sized Boeing 737-800 jets is 31 inches.
In July 2017, United Airlines also announced that it was adding an extra seat in every row in economy class on their Boeing 777 aircraft. In other words, passengers would pay the same price for a ticket, but have less space.
These cutbacks almost certainly impacted the ranking of U.S. carriers.
“We are looking for leadership and airlines that innovate to make a real difference to the passenger experience, particularly in economy class,” said the AirlineRatings.com judging team.
Judges also took passenger feedback on their website into consideration. Based on what we know about American consumers, they probably didn’t have nice things to say about the U.S. carriers.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Secrets of a Chinese shipwreck


According to an article in Live Science, this wreck dates from the time that the descendants of Genghis Khan ruled China. Seven hundred years ago, the ship foundered in the course of a river voyage, and was forgotten until the day the wreck was discovered under a construction site. Archaeologists moved in, and had a more exciting time than the picture above might indicate.

Divided into 12 cabins (including the captain's stateroom, a control room that was also the galley, and cargo spaces that were loaded with grain), the ship proved to be a storehouse of gorgeous Chinese treasures.  The captain's cabin held some of them, and the rest were focused about a Buddhist shrine.

Hit this link to see a sampling


Friday, October 27, 2017

Einstein "tip" earns untold gold

From the Jerusalem Post

The Jerusalem auction house that sold a note written by Albert Einstein for $1,560,000 on Tuesday night said it was flabbergasted by the winning bid. “We were in total shock, we didn’t believe it was happening,” said Avi Blumenthal, a spokesman for Winner’s Auctions and Exhibitions. “It’s the highest price ever for an item sold at auction in Israel.”

The note, written shortly after Einstein learned he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, says simply: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

According to the auction house, located in the Givat Shaul neighborhood of Jerusalem, the letter was written by Einstein in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in October 1922. When a messenger delivered something to his room, the scientist found himself short of a tip. Instead he gave the bellboy two notes and “told the messenger to keep them, as their future value may be much higher than a standard tip,” said the auction house.

Blumenthal told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday morning that the letters came to them directly from the great-nephew of the bellboy who delivered the message to Einstein.

He held on to the letter for many years, and a few months ago we held an auction of letters Einstein wrote to Prof. David Bohm, on mathematics, and they were sold at a nice price,” Blumenthal said. In that auction, the letter that fetched the highest price went for $84,000.

“It was publicized in a newspaper in Germany where he [the great-nephew] lives, and he saw this and said, ‘Okay, if they get good prices on Einstein, I’ll turn to them.’” 

Bidding on the item started at $2,000 and the auction house estimated it would go for $5,000-$8,000; the final price was close to 200 times that amount. While Winner’s didn’t dream of the final sum the letter garnered, it did have an idea that this auction would attract greater interest than some of its others.

“In the weeks leading up to the auction,” Blumenthal said, “we saw people joining the website from Lebanon, from Jordan, from places that were a little unusual.”

The other note Einstein gave to the bellboy sold for $240,000.

That note said simply, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Both letters were written in German. Two other letters by Einstein in the auction sold for $33,600 and $9,600.

The auction included many items of Judaica, Holocaust memorabilia and holy books.

The handwritten notes of the Chatam Sofer on a tractate of Talmud, dated to 1914, sold for $26,400.

Blumenthal said about 30 people showed up in person to the auction house in Jerusalem, and most of the bidding took place online, as is common in auctions today. The purchaser of the letter has chosen to remain anonymous, but Blumenthal said the buyer is based in Europe.

“It just goes to show you,” said Blumenthal, “that many people own items at home and they couldn’t possibly dream of the value those items could have.”

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Vasco da Gama's astrolabe


The BBC news reports a fascinating find.

The legendary marine archaeologist, David Mearns of Blue Water recovery, salvaged an artifact from Vasco da Gama's ship Esmeralda that looked like a navigational instrument.

It has now been confirmed that it is, indeed, a fifteenth century astrolabe, used to determine the altitude of the sun. 

As the BBC reports --

David Mearns, from Blue Water Recovery, who led the excavation and is the author of The Shipwreck Hunter, told the BBC: "It's a great privilege to find something so rare, something so historically important, something that will be studied by the archaeological community and fills in a gap."
The astrolabe was discovered by Mr Mearns in 2014, and was one of nearly 3,000 artefacts recovered during a series of dives.
The bronze disc measures 17.5cm in diameter and is less than 2mm thick.
"It was like nothing else we had seen and I immediately knew it was something very important because you could see it had these two emblems on it," said Mr Mearns.
"One I recognised immediately as a Portuguese coat of arms... and another which we later discovered was the personal emblem of Don Manuel I, the King of Portugal at the time."
The excavation team believed the object was an astrolabe, but they could not see any navigational markings on it.
However, a later analysis uncovered its hidden details.
Laser scanning work carried out by scientists at the University of Warwick revealed etches around the edge of the disc, each separated by five degrees.
Astrolabe laser scan
Image captionThe University of Warwick used laser scans to uncover etches on the astrolabe, which helped navigators work out the height of the sun
This would have allowed mariners to measure the height of the sun above the horizon at noon to determine their location so they could find their way on the high seas.
Mariners' astrolabes are relatively rare, and this is only the 108th to be confirmed catalogued. It is also the earliest known example by several decades.
Mr Mearns said: "We know it had to have been made before 1502, because that's when the ship left Lisbon and Dom Manuel didn't become King until 1495, and this astrolabe wouldn't have carried the emblem of the King unless he was King.
"I believe it's probably fair to say it dates roughly to between 1495 to 1500. Exactly what year we don't know - but it is in that narrow period."
He added: "It rolls back this history by at least 30 years - it adds to evolution, it adds to the history, and hopefully astrolabes from this period can be found."

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Franklin expedition ships endowed to Canada

Sir John Franklin, by Ron Druett
From the Maple Leaf Navy magazine


Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon announced today that the UK will gift the wrecks from Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin’s historic expedition to the Canadian Government. This reflects our long shared history and the closeness of our current bilateral relationship.
The journey to locate these vessels has taken 172 years. Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin set sail from England in 1845 on an expedition to chart the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The ships and all crew were lost after the ships became stuck in ice off King William Island and the crew abandoned them to trek overland to the South. None of the crew survived.
Many attempts were made over the years but only artefacts were found. In 1992, the wrecks were designated as a national historic site, despite neither shipwreck having been found at that time. In 1997, UK and Canadian Governments signed an agreement giving custody and control of the wrecks and their contents to the Canadian Government, whilst still remaining the property of the UK.
With a combination of traditional Inuit knowledge and state-of-the-art technology, the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were finally located under relatively shallow Arctic Waters to the south of King William Island in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Acknowledging the importance of this momentous discovery, the UK Government is proposing to update the 1997 agreement, transferring ownership of the wrecks to Parks Canada, whilst retaining a small sample of artefacts. Items from the wreckages will be displayed for future generations in both Canadian and UK museums.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said:
“During her recent visit to Canada, the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of recognising our shared past with Canada as we seek to reinvigorate our already strong bilateral relationship.
“This exceptional arrangement will recognise the historical significance of the Franklin expedition to the people of Canada, and will ensure that these wrecks and artefacts are conserved for future generations.”
The transfer of ownership is expected to be undertaken over the coming weeks.
With thanks to Dave Shirlaw


Friday, October 20, 2017

New Life for Old Books


In contrast to its stance against wholesale google digitization of books, the Authors Guild approves of a new venture for making old books available to readers, historians, and researchers.

As the newsletter announces, "The Internet Archive has announced a promising initiative aimed at giving new, online life to 75-plus-year-old books. Although the Internet Archive has sometimes been cavalier about copyright and dismissive of the needs of authors, we are happy about this project, which aims to make 10,000 or more out-of-print books published between 1923 and 1941 available to researchers, historians, and readers. Helping libraries as well as authors take advantage of new digital opportunities is an Authors Guild priority.

"Beginning with the pioneering Project Gutenberg, programs to scan printed books and make them available online have mostly been limited to those old enough to be in the public domain. That’s why Google’s notorious book-scanning project is able to display only small excerpts of copyrighted books, mostly with the cooperation of publishers. As a general rule, the cutoff date for displaying books in their entirety is 1923—all books published before then are automatically in the public domain.
"The people at the Internet Archive, a San Francisco nonprofit founded by Brewster Kahle, are relying on an important feature of the Copyright Act that allows libraries and archives to copy books for researchers and scholars in the last 20 years of the books’ copyright life, as long as they aren’t commercially available. The exception was added to Section 108, the part of the copyright law that provides special exceptions for libraries and archives, in 1998 when the copyright terms were extended by 20 years. The rest of Section 108 was enacted in 1976, when the idea of “copying” didn’t envision the internet, and so section 108 badly needs updating. We’re working with the Copyright Office on this."
Any author who finds that his or her book has been caught up by this project even though the book is still commercially available can get redress by contacting the Guild.