Book-vending machine offers surprise and suspense

 

Earlier this year, Stephen Fowler, owner of The Monkey’s Paw used-book store in Toronto, had an idea.

He wanted a creative way to offload his more ill-favored books — “old and unusual” all, as the store’s motto goes — that went further than a $1 bin by the register.

It came in a conversation with his wife: a vending machine.

“Originally, I thought maybe we would just have a refrigerator box and paint it to look like a vending machine,” he tells NPR, “and put a skinny assistant of mine inside and have him drop books out when people put a coin in.”

But then he was hanging out with a friend, Craig Small, who runs an animation studio in Toronto.

“I mentioned the idea to him, and he said, ‘Forget it! Let’s just build one!’ “

So they did, and for the past few weeks that machine has been up and running. The “Biblio-Mat” is about the size of a refrigerator and painted vintage pistachio green with chrome accents. On the front, in old-style lettering, it reads: “Every book a surprise. No two alike. Collect all 112 million titles…”

Though he’s not making much money off the Biblio-Mat, Fowler says it’s a great way to entertain customers — especially kids…

“People have a deep need to think the thing is actually being picked for them,” he says. “Yesterday a young woman got a book out of the machine — 12 Hardest Shots in Golf, or something like that — and she was not very impressed. But then she said, ‘I know exactly who I’m giving this to for Christmas.’ “

The one gift you can repurpose, regift forever. A book.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Yes, let’s all remember Thanksgiving

Remembering the folks I lived and worked with in the Navajo Nation. Especially – this morning – the brothers I used to shuck and jive with hanging out in front of Basha’s. And most especially a hard-working freedom fighter I was fortunate enough to engage when he and his wife were living in the Chinle neck of the prairie – Russell Means. We miss your thoughts as well as your deeds.

Who-smiles-like-a-bear

A hidden cause of the Benghazi tragedy – Beancounters!

For conservatives, the Benghazi scandal is a Watergate-like presidential cover-up. For liberals, it a fabricated Republican witch-hunt. For me, Benghazi is a call to act on an enduring problem that both parties ignore.

One major overlooked cause of the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is we have underfunded the State Department and other civilian agencies that play a vital role in our national security. Instead of building up cadres of skilled diplomatic security guards, we have bought them from the lowest bidder, trying to acquire capacity and expertise on the cheap. Benghazi showed how vulnerable that makes us…

Though embassies have contingents of Marines, consulates and other offices do not. And the missions of Marines, in fact, are to destroy documents and protect American government secrets. It is the Diplomatic Security agents who are charged with safeguarding the lives of American diplomats…

Unable to hire contractors, the Diplomatic Security Service rotated small numbers of agents through Benghazi to provide security, on what government officials call temporary duty assignments, or “TDY.” Eric Nordstrom, the Diplomatic Security agent who oversaw security in Libya until two months before the attack, recently told members of Congress that though he twice requested 12 agents he was rejected – and told he was asking for “the sun the moon and the stars…”

Other State Department officials also say that the reliance on contracting created a weakened Diplomatic Security Service. They said department officials, short on staff and eager to reduce costs, nickeled-and-dimed DS security requests…

Democrats have blamed Republicans for the lack of funding. They point out that House Republicans rejected $450 million in administration requests for increased Diplomatic Security spending since 2010. They say Senate Democrats were able to restore a small part of the funding.

But these partisan charges and counter-charges ignore a basic truth. Resource shortages and a reliance on contractors caused bitter divisions between field officers in Benghazi and State Department managers in Washington…

One problem that can afflict any bureaucracy – of any flavor, smooth-running and efficient or bumping along the bottom – people in power who begin to think they’re spending their grandmother’s money. If people succeed in useful appropriations, if circumstances call for changes, additions and supplements – they are unwilling to turn loose the pursestrings.

I don’t care what induced their neurosis – it needs to be remedied.

Pelicans blown astray by superstorm Sandy get a plane ride


They were housed in a tent in Rhode Island

Two brown pelicans blown to Rhode Island by the winds of Hurricane Sandy were flown in a private plane back to their natural habitat in Florida…

The first of the large birds, whose wingspans measure 6 to 7 feet, was found on the side of a road at Fishermen’s Memorial State Park on November 7, nine days after the storm made landfall in New Jersey, said Jennifer Brooks, clinic director at the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island.

The bird, a juvenile likely from a nest in North Carolina, had been tagged by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and records showed it was presumed to have died, she said.

The second pelican landed on a fishing boat about 120 miles south of Block Island the following day, she said. The crew of the boat, which provides fish to SeaWorld theme parks, fed the bird for several days before docking.

They were a little bit thin, they were a little beat up from the storm,” Brooks said of the birds. They had lost tail feathers and suffered scratches to their throat pouches, which are prone to frostbite in northern climates, Brooks said.

They were scheduled to be flown in containers similar to dog crates in a small private plane on Saturday to the Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary in Florida, she said.

The cost of the flight — about $2,000 — will be covered by public donations, Brooks said.

Could be the easiest flight home they ever take. The return flight, that is.

I imagine being pushed up North by Sandy was just plain miserable.