Saturday, December 30, 2006

_1421: The Year China Discovered America_ Notes

About 100 pages in. I like the detail and evocation of medieval China; lots of fascinating little bits and pieces. The problem--which may just be my bias, knowing that much of the info has been discredited--is that he seems very ready to make assumptions or leap to certain conclusions. E.g. certain phrases like "Without that experience [of sailing the same possible routes the Chinese fleet had taken], I could never have followed the elusive trail of evidence across the globe that revealed the incredible journeys made by the great Chines treasure fleets. If I was able to state with confidence the course a Chinese fleet had taken, it was because the surviving maps and charts and my own knowledge of the winds, currents and sea conditions told me the route as surely as if there had been a written record of it."

I like the magical realism of an idea like this: namely, that he could have, by knowing the winds, currents and sea conditions, been able to plot the course so precisely. I'm sure there's some element of truth to that (though there's also the question of how much those would have changed in 600 years. I really don't know the answer to that)--you'd be able to infer the likelihood of one route over another. But it seems a leap into conjecture to claim that by knowing the winds etc. you'd be able to infer whether they went to a place or not. If they went there, one route might suggest itself as likelier than another, but that seems a rather big "if".

Of course, he's still talking about better-documented visits at this point, where there seems some evidence that they went to Africa etc. to corroborate his claims, so perhaps all he is claiming at this point is that he knows the likely route they would have taken, on these reasonably well-known trips. But he does mention an "elusive trail of evidence across the globe" that would seem to imply that he's making this claim about other, less well-documented trips as well. Problematic.

There's also a MR element to an earlier note of his, in which he mentions that looking at older maps, he can figure out the angle from which they approached the shoreline etc. because of his navigational experience. Kind of cool.

Friday, December 29, 2006


I hereby declare this my recently read/seen or in the process of reading/seeing blog. I'll reserve actual commentaries for my main blog, but this is more by way of tracking stuff for myself...

So, recently scanned:

Woman Warrior
Adam, Eve and the Serpent (Elaine Paggels)
Evil Sisters (Bram Djikstra)
Goddess Within
Hero with a Thousand Faces

Recently read:

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)

Recently viewed:

Partway through Prison Break
Final Cut (Robin Williams as editor of others' lives in expiation of guilt he feels over a childhood mishap)
Battlestar Galactica (partway through season two)
Alias (up to end of season two)
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

Currently reading/scanning:

Fairy Faith in Celtic Cultures
Beginnins, Middles and Ends
How Great Generals Win (Bevin Alexander)
1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered America
Stranger Things Happen (Kelly Link)
Politics: A conceptual approach

To read soon, I hope:

The Book of Lost Things
Lost Girls (Andrew Pyper)
The Psychology of War

Thursday, March 23, 2006


A photo from our visit to the Adirondacks. As a test for posting pics.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The future of the music industry

On our recent trip to San Antonio, struck by a sudden hankering for coffee, we headed over to the Riverwalk in our search for Starbucks. We found it. As Tom put it, once we had climbed to the street level where it was located, "But this isn't a coffee place, it's a music store."

And so, indeed, it was. A music store with hip, minimalist displays of actual cds and a series of flat-screen lcd "listening stations" with stools poised in front of them. A music store that happened to also sell coffee. The merchandising was, IMO, brilliant.

The music that was now playing over the store's sound system showed in a corner of the screen, so you could, at any time, pull up the album it was from and listen to the whole thing. If the cd you wanted wasn't in stock, you could compile a custom cd of your own at a fixed price for the first seven or eight songs, and a lower price for each successive song. But, if the cd was in stock, it looked like you'd have to shell out the label price in order to get your desired songs. They also seemed to have a setup that anticipated some sort of "upload to the mp3 player" option down the line.

Fascinating indeed to see these various adaptations to the changing music industry--ways to allow people who don't want to steal music, but who also don't want to spend mucho dinero on a mediocre album with one good song, to legitimately test drive the music and buy just what they want. Which of these service provider adaptations will survive and propagate, I wonder?

In theory, this should raise the bar on the kind of music that gets produced. As with the mp3 format, the variety will likely increase, but at the same time, the competition for airtime in establishments like the Starbucks will grow fierce, and the backers with the sheckels will be the ones whose clients will be heard (the "check out the whole album from what's playing" system works, btw--I bought both the cds that I explored after hearing one of their songs playing in the cafe).

In practice, the need for songs people will buy a la carte (as opposed to using the "menu du jour" format of the traditional cd) could be problematic. On the one hand, it means that fewer people will be willing to take the plunge on an album they don't love right away--and so there will be fewer instances of discovering a "gem" on the b-side that, after a few listens and a bit of getting used to, becomes a favourite. The "raised bar" of having songs that are catchy from the first listen is also counterbalanced by the radio syndicates, all putting the same "lowest common denominator" music into high rotation across the continent--though in turn, those could be counterbalanced by the democratic medium of the podcasts...

So, it will be interesting to see the lay of the land, once the dust settles. Where will the new borders and battle lines be drawn?