alan little’s weblog archive for october 2005

thanks brian

24th October 2005 permanent link

Some things on the Mac are so simple, easy and obvious they’re actually almost impossible to find if you’re too indoctrinated in the Windows Way of digging around in mazes of twisty little settings dialogs. I’ve only been using Macs for three years, and Windows for fifteen or so, and I still use Windows at work, so I have difficulty with these things.

I suspected I had a networking problem with my two Macs (desktop and laptop). The desktop has an old, slow WiFi card, and even when I connected them with an Ethernet cable, the file transfer speeds I was getting were so slow I strongly suspected they must be ignoring the nice fast wire and talking instead over the nasty slow wireless connection. I looked around for ways to say “use the wire not the wifi”, but couldn’t find any. Eventually I resorted to always switiching WiFi off on one of the machines before I connected them. I was sure there had to be a better way, and actually what I needed to do was:

to make sure that the Ethernet port is listed first in the network ports in the Network preferences... it goes through those ports in the preference order you specify, and if Ethernet is listed above AirPort, it'll use that.

Just drag and drop, et voila! My it’s fast. It never crossed my mind that it would be that easy. The information came from Brian Tiemann, who I emailed thinking this would be the sort of thing he would know. I was right. Thanks Brian.

related entries: Mac

photography quotes

22nd October 2005 permanent link

Needless technical perfection is a bad thing in creative art.
Ken Rockwell

Jein, as we like to say to such things in Bavaria. Yes, but … you need to be very sure that being technically immaculate is not relevant, or even directly contrary, to the artistic impression you are consciously working to produce. Or be producing things that are not “realistic” representations of reality, but doing so in a technically perfect manner – which I think is what Ken is actually trying to do. Both are different from just sloppiness or not knowing the difference between technically good and bad.

related entries: Photography


19th October 2005 permanent link

If you publish on many different topics, you're less likely to attract a loyal audience of high-value users.

… says Jakob Nielsen, but balls to that, high-value readers. (Users? Users? Who on earth is he talking about?)

A couple of books I’m reading at the moment that I recommend highly are Charles Allen’s Search for the Buddha: The Men Who Discovered India's Lost Religion and George Michell’s Hindu Art and Architecture.

I discovered Charles Allen’s book via Findlay Dunachie’s (RIP) review of it on samizdata. It describes the rediscovery of Buddhism’s Indian heritage by a handful of British researchers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, after memory of it had largely been suppressed by centuries of Hindu and Muslim rule.

George Michell’s book I found in the bookshop of the Asia Society in New York when I was there a few weeks ago. I haven’t read much of the text yet, but it has beautiful illustrations of amazing sculptures and other artwork. It makes me want to go back to India and see more such things for real. It makes me wonder, too, whether when I was in India seeing such things for real, I spent too much time trying to get good photographs of them and not enough time actually looking at them.

While I’m on the subject, a couple of other India books that have impressed me very much, reviews of which are sitting in my perpetually unfinished drafts folder: Gregory Roberts’ Shantaram and William Dalrymple’s White Mughals.

Shantaram tells the tale of an Australian convict on the run in the slums and criminal underworld of Bombay in the 1980s, and is one of the most fascinating (lightly fictionalised) life stories I’ve ever read.

White Mughals tells another fascinating life story: that of James Kirkpatrick, the British East India Company’s envoy to the Nizam of Hyerabad at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. Kirkpatrick falls in love with, and marries, a teenage Muslim princess, falls into disfavour with the British authorities for “going native” and being therefore of suspect loyalty, and dies young (as that generation of Brits in India mostly did) after achieving remarkable things in a very short span of time. The princess’s subsequent story, betrayed by her dead husband’s best friend, is tragic. This would make a great film, especially if someone could arrange to hire Shakespeare to do the script. It covers the same period of time as Charles Allen’s book, and it is a fascinating era, when the early generations of Brits in India were amazed and impressed at the richness of the culture they had stumbled upon, and before Victorian evangelical blinkered arrogance kicked in.

Pretty much anything by William Dalrymple is worth reading. I was also very impressed by his book on Delhi, City of Djinns.

Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins’s Freedom at Midnight, a history of the British departure and the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1948, is also a great read, including one of the more informative accounts I’ve read of Gandhi’s life and character.

I realise I am open to accusations of Orientalism here, all the above being perspectives on India by westerners. But what other perspectives am I supposed to have? Besides, I’ve read the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and large chunks of Gandhi and Arundhati Roy. R.K. Narayan is high on my to-read list too. Any other recommendations welcome.

currently listening to …

18th October 2005 permanent link

Amazon took nearly three weeks to find me a copy of the Smetana Quartet recording of Schubert’s String Quintet, and when they finally do it turns out to be certainly good, and well worth listening to, but not obviously a must-have compared to a couple of the very good recordings of the piece I already have. It comes on the same disk, however, as a Brahms string quartet (opus 67) which I wasn’t really interested in, but which turns out to be stunning and the first time I have ever really enjoyed a piece of Brahms chamber music.

I also decided to order myself the Smetana Quartet’s late Beethoven recordings from HMV in Japan (early Christmas present). Shipping was expensive but the CDs themselves were cheap, so I ended up paying about the same for them as if I had bought them full price in Europe or the States. HMV, unlike Amazon, shipped within two days – but then they spent two days in Customs at Frankfurt airport last week, and when I checked the Fedex website again this evening I discovered that they tried to deliver them yesterday and again today but nobody was in. I hope they don’t send them back to Japan before I phone tomorrow.

related entries: Music

record collections

18th October 2005 permanent link

Eric Grunin says he only has 334 recordings of the Eroica, not the “nearly four hundred” I attributed to him. This is barely a tenth of his total collection of CDs and vinyl though. Kyle Gann’s seven thousandish mp3 files are just a tenth of his music collection too, whereas my seven thousand “songs” in iTunes are nearly the whole of mine.

It seems my record collection isn’t going to be getting much bigger. My wife, impeccably yogically, has decreed that we have More Than Enough Stuff in general, and in particular that for every classical CD I buy I have to sell one. Ebay here I come.

related entries: Music

yoga and fitness

18th October 2005 permanent link

The place where I’m working has a pretty good employee fitness programme (also open to contractors), including a gym where I do my yoga practice at lunchtime – easier than doing it at home with a toddler jumping on me. This week they’re doing various fitness assessment specials to encourage people to sign up, one of which was body fat measurements outside the canteen at lunchtime.

I have 13.3% body fat, which is fairly low for a man of my age. But my Body Mass Index (weight over height squared) is 25, which is quite high. Lowish fat and highish BMI apparently means I’m quite muscular. Which is interesting. Yoga is the only exercise I do on a regular basis these days. I gave up rock climbing ten years ago; up until four years ago I was doing a fair bit of mountain biking and snowboarding, but those too came to an end when I became first an expectant and then an actual father. I sometimes ride my bike to work, which is a 20 mile round trip – but only a couple of days a week at most in summer and not at all in winter, and this summer was so lousy I hardly did it at all. So really just yoga – forty minutes to an hour and a half, four to six times a week.

Practicing yoga for the sake of one’s health, a firm body, or enjoyment is not the right approach.

But if doing it means you get a healthy, firm body as side effect, then that means you don’t have to spend time and energy on other activities aimed at maintaining fitness, so you have more time for yoga …

related entries: Yoga

daddy’s sleepy

16th October 2005 permanent link

A Sunday Family Life Vignettte.

“Jack with the hammer help – nicht. Daddy’s hammer” says my two year old son as we are lying down for our afternoon nap, accurately recalling a forceful Difference Of Opinion we had this morning whilst rearranging some shelves in the living room.

“Daddy’s sleepy”. Right again. Winning arguments with toddlers is hard work.


16th October 2005 permanent link

You may be spending too much time in Photoshop if:

… you’re out for a bike ride with your family on a cool, clear Autumn morning and you see the outline of a tree against the sky, and you think “nah, that’s oversharpened. Doesn’t look realistic.”

related entries: Photography

baby’s first gig

12th October 2005 permanent link

A Wednesday Family Life Vignette.

Jack and I went into town to buy Jack shoes. (At least this time he actually managed to wear the old ones out in the three months it took him to also grow out of them)

Outside the shoe shop was a quartet (double bass, violin, flute, oboe) playing light classics – William Tell Overture, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the usual suspects. They were no great shakes, but not terrible either, and Jack was interested so I thought we’d stop for a few minutes. It’s very important for him to understand that music is something people do, not something that comes out of a box; but I would never dream of taking a two year old to a concert, even a kids’ one, for fear of him getting bored. Listening to buskers, you can just move on when he loses interest. Except he didn’t – he was absolutely riveted, grinning from ear to ear and conducting with the two balloons he acquired in the shoe shop, for half an hour until the musicians took a break.

We didn’t have any change, and we got a good deal on the shoes, so the guys got five bucks out of us.

related entries: Music

insider perspective

11th October 2005 permanent link

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra is coming to Munich, so I called my brother to ask his professional opinion on whether they’re likely to be worth the price of tickets and a babysitter – and got interesting insights into the perspectives and priorities of the working musician. Oh absolutely, he says, there’s only a handful of really top flight orchestras in the world and the New York Phil is one of them. (The others, folks, are Berlin, Vienna, Chicago and maybe, marginally, the London Symphony Orchestra). Who’s conducting and what are they playing? Maazel, Mahler 5. Oh, then definitely go – he pulls great faces when he’s conducting Mahler, he should get an Oscar.

Lest you think it’s all professional cynicism, though, he then goes into raptures about the time he heard the Vienna Philharmonic. Especially their brass section: “they’ve got so much power they bounce the sound off the back wall of the hall and it hits you on the back of the head and you think wow, where did that come from?”

related entries: Music


11th October 2005 permanent link

I doubt the existence of athletes so elite they are twice as fit as Lance Armstrong. I don’t however, doubt the existence of the Third Law of Thermodynamics, or its ability to produce large discrepancies between the total energy output of a human being, and the actual power delivered to the crank of a bicycle.

I don’t disagree in the least with Steve’s broader point that a lot of people would be healthier, and less fuel would be burned, if more people rode bikes. I think it’s unlikely that enough people would do so for enough of their journeys to make a noticeable dent in fuel consumption. In any case it’s a chicken and egg problem: you only get lots of people riding bikes if you have bike-friendly streets, which requires bike-aware drivers, which requires lots of bikes on the streets …

I used to ride to work in Manchester (UK). I had a route worked out that stuck to side streets most of the way, but in the city centre there was no avoiding main roads. British drivers are not bike-aware. That feeling of taking your life in your hands on a daily basis might be ok when you’re 25 and single, but it gets old really quickly. Now I live in Munich, where most roads have cycle paths, and the ones that don’t have bike-aware drivers because lots of people ride bikes. Better climate than Britain too. Cyclist’s paradise.

So, thanks for the inspiration Steve, and now it’s time to go and ride my bike to work – I won’t have many more chances to do it this year before there’s ice on the pavements.

noises off

10th October 2005 permanent link

Comments on other peoples’ blogs:

Steve Crandall has some figures on efficiencies of cycling versus other modes of transport that I think are overoptimistic. See my comment. Steve’s source, for example, has the statistic: “elite athletes produce 6 and sometimes 7 watts/kg for several hours”. In this Tour de France coach’s diary, I find that Lance Armstrong and other top ten Tour riders can sustain that output level for twenty minutes in short time trials. Over several hours on long road stages the power output is less than half that. I doubt the existence of athletes so elite they are twice as fit as Lance Armstrong.

Norm Geras, meanwhile, addresses the question of why it would be worth going to see an exhibition of photos by Diane Arbus if you’re already familiar with them, even already have a book with them in? Norm doesn’t have comments (shocking!) so I emailed him to point out that an actual photographic print is a very different thing from a reproduction in a book, even a good one. This is especially true of photos by technical virtuosi like Edward Weston or Ansel Adams, as I experienced when I went to the Ansel Adams centenary exhibition:

Seeing the actual prints also makes sense of some of what John Szarkowski has to say in the book that accompanies the exhibition. He says that during the later years of his life, Adams took fewer new pictures, or fewer that he liked, and concentrated instead on ’re-interpretations’ of earlier negatives. And Szarkowski feels that the later prints – intenser, more contrasty – are heavy-handed and melodramatic compared to the earlier prints. Having seen the prints he’s talking about, I agree. He shows two examples – one of aspens in New Mexico, a print circa 1960 and one from 1976; and another of Denali (Mt McKinley) – again, a print from the ’40s or ’50s and one from the ’70s. The earlier aspens print is gently, ethereally beautiful (melancholy, my girlfriend Maria says). The ’70s print also has a certain – different – beauty viewed close up, but from further away it just looks harsh. Same with the two Denalis. You can’t see this at all in the book (which I therefore didn’t buy). In the reproductions there, the ’70s prints look good, the earlier prints just look grey and flat and lifeless. You can’t see this sort of thing in a book, you have to be looking at a real print.

Even if (for some bizarre personal reason) you’re not fascinated with how the prints are produced from a technical perspective, the difference in how they look is still going to have some impact on how you experience them. It’s not as extreme as the shock I had seeing a real Van Gogh for the first time – prints in books give you no idea of the intense, heavy, three-dimensional brushwork – but it’s there. It’s there for more photojournalistic pictures too. I didn’t buy the book of the Magnum Photo fifitieth anniversary show at the show, because I was so disappointed by how the reproductions looked when I’d just seen the real thing. I bought it later when the book was cheaper and the memories had faded.

related entries: Photography

photography quotes

9th October 2005 permanent link

you have to die of something, and why not die getting a good photo

Asks Brian Micklethwait, who clearly has his priorities in life properly sorted out.

related entries: Photography

a step in the right direction

8th October 2005 permanent link

“I want to be able to get anything that is currently or has ever been released. I don’t care whether I get things from individual record labels or some kind of distributor …” I said last week. Today, via I discover that British classical label Chandos has all its no longer available CDs available for download as MP3s.

“Now everything Chandos has ever recorded is available either as a CD or Mp3” appears to mean things that are currently available on CD aren’t there for download. It also doesn’t appear to include things Chandos have reissued but didn’t originally record, such as the Borodin Quartet’s amazing 1960s Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. But there’s a lot of good stuff there. Seems to be a better deal than Apple. Pricing is somewhat cheaper: £0.40 (about US$0.70 ) per five minutes or part thereof. Format is 192kbps mp3 – roughly comparable to 128 AAC. No DRM.

Every record label should do this. Supraphon and whoever owns RCA these days, please start with your early 1960s Smetana and Juilliard Quartet Beethoven recordings. Thank you.

related entries: Music

languages, languages (2)

7th October 2005 permanent link

Another random thought that occurred to me about languages of a different kind, apropos of nothing in particular apart from still pondering whether to have a look at Rails or some other modern web framework: Java and Javascript.

A few years ago (round about the time I came to Germany, or a little before), Java was being touted as the language of the future for interesting, vibrant, cross platform front end development. Javascript was a trivial toy. Whereas what actually happened was that Java, not surprisingly since IBM adopted it so enthusiastically, became COBOL: the language of choice for important-but-tedious bureaucratic back office projects. Meanwhile Javascript is where Java was supposed to to be: right at the cutting edge of interesting front end development.

UPDATE: Sean McGrath says it was inevitable all along:

Java-based browser applets were doomed from the start because browsers already had built-in virtual machines in the form of Javascript execution environments. It was only a matter of time until the native Javascript environment in browsers became powerful enough for rich application development.

related entries: Programming

languages, languages (1)

7th October 2005 permanent link

One reason I accepted a six month contract in Germany, nearly seven years ago now, was that I always wanted to learn a foreign language properly. I think I’m getting there; I’ve worked for a couple of years in predominantly German-speaking teams. I still write most things at work in English, except short emails – I can write longer things in (mostly) grammatical and understandable German, but it’s just too slow most of the time.

Today, though, I had something I wanted to express in an email I was writing in English, and I could think of a short, easy and natural way to say it in German but not in English. I assume that’s a sign of a language really starting to sink in.

(What I wanted to explain to somebody was that, although my boss is officially responsible for a particular project, I’m actually the person he should talk to first. “Deputy” is wrong because it implies the other way round; “representative” is too formal and not really idiomatic in English in this context. “Verteter” gets it exactly right in one word.)

yoga sceptic

7th October 2005 permanent link

One of the things in my perpetually unfinished drafts folder is an essay on “materialist yoga”, in which I talk about my belief that many of the effects and benefits traditionally claimed for yoga are real observations of real phenomena, which should in principle be explainable without resorting to some supernatural concept of “god”.

So I’m interested when I see studies that seem to be going in that direction, or entire vast bibliographies of such studies; and I’m frustrated when I see such things being done with what look to me like absolutely basic mistakes.

One thing I immediately and automatically assume is bullshit is people claiming that their religion’s sacred texts, including the particular archaic language in which they were originally composed, are the direct literal word of God. (I once saw a website whose author believed the King James Bible was what God had in mind all along. Why then did it take Him sixteen hundred years’ worth of drafts in other languages to get it right? He must manage His to-do list about as effectively as I do mine) One variant of that claim, distressingly common in yogic circles, is that the sound of the Sanskrit language in Hindu sacred texts has some kind of special effect on consciousness, irrespective of whether or not one actually understands the texts. Hmm.

So this abstract in the bibliography I just mentioned rather jumped out at me:

This study tested the prediction that reading Vedic Sanskrit texts, without knowledge of their meaning, produces a distinct physiological state. We measured EEG, breath rate, heart rate, and skin conductance during: (1) 15-min Transcendental Meditation (TM) practice; (2) 15-min reading verses of the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit; and (3) 15-min reading the same verses translated in German, Spanish, or French. The two reading conditions were randomly counterbalanced, and subjects filled out experience forms between each block to reduce carryover effects. Skin conductance levels significantly decreased during both reading Sanskrit and TM practice, and increased slightly during reading a modern language. Alpha power and coherence were significantly higher when reading Sanskrit and during TM practice, compared to reading modern languages. Similar physiological patterns when reading Sanskrit and during practice of the TM technique suggests that the state gained during TM practice may be integrated with active mental processes by reading Sanskrit.

Travis, Frederick, T. Olson, T. Egenes, and H. K. Gupta. Physiological patterns during practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique compared with patterns while reading Sanskrit and a modern language. International Journal of Neuroscience, Jul. 2001, 109(1-2):71-80

It’s unfair to comment on a paper based on the abstract. I would read the whole thing if I could, but the International Journal of Neuroscience doesn’t have online archives. So, thoughts based on what I can glean from the abstract:

A basic factual error in the first sentence doesn’t exactly inspire confidence: the Bhagavad Gita isn’t Vedic. It was composed hundreds of years later than the Vedas, in a language that had changed significantly from Vedic Sanskrit. (wikipedia:Sanskrit) I wouldn’t expect peer reviewers for a neuroscience journal to know this, but somebody who is sufficiently interested to want to do a study like this should.

I’ll give the authors the benefit of the doubt by assuming they know more about EEG readings and measures of statistical significance than they do about the history of Sanskrit. So assuming the effect they say they found is real – what could be causing it?

The claim that merely reading Sanskrit texts without understanding them has special effects is a very strong one. It’s more commonly said that reciting Sanskrit texts has a special meditative effect. It’s obvious how that could be:

I remain sceptical about the alleged specialness of the Sanskrit language. If the language itself, irrespective of the setting and of what the text actually says, really does have the kind of special effect that some people – apparently including the authors of this study – believe, then my hypothesis would be that the effect comes from one or more of the following, in decreasing order of probability/importance:

  1. people associate it with particular activities & states of mind and react to it accordingly
  2. verse from oral cultures has been very highly refined and evolved over many generations to fit comfortably into the human mind
  3. classical Sanskrit is an artificial language, produced by many generations of clever people taking an existing natural language and deliberately refining it in the direction of order and aesthetic pleasingness.

No divine intervention required.

related entries: Yoga

more gas

6th October 2005 permanent link

Michael Blowhard complicates the yoga-oxygen picture still further by pointing to this Yoga Journal article about research on the physical benefits of yoga. In it we encounter the entirely plausible hypothesis that:

… yoga poses help increase lung capacity by improving the flexibility of the rib area, shoulders and back, allowing the lungs to expand more fully. Breathwork further boosts lung capacity … by conditioning the diaphragm.

related entries: Yoga

gas exchange yoga

4th October 2005 permanent link

I was thinking whilst cycling to work the other day[*] about something David Williams said at the yoga course I went to with him in July: he wouldn’t be surprised if as much oxygen passed through the body in one hour’s ashtanga yoga practice as in the other twenty three hours in the day of other activities.

(Unfortunately for me, perhaps,) I’m not the sort of person that hears a claim like that and just thinks “wow, cool”. Instead I think “wow, that would be interesting if it were true. Now show me the numbers”.

According to yoga anatomy guru David Coulter, a normal resting breath for a “healthy young male” is about half a litre, and the maximum possible breath is a little under 5 litres. So a factor of 10 difference – quite a lot, but less than 23x. And that's the theoretical upper limit of what would be possible for a super-yogi who breathed at the maximum possible throughout their yoga practice, and an absolutely relaxed resting breath the rest of the time. I don't think such a person exists.

In ashtanga vinyasa yoga, we don’t in any case attempt to breath the absolute maximum possible volume of air. We are supposed hold muscle locks in the lower abdomen throughout our practice – bandas – one effect of which is to prevent breathing into the abdomen and instead keep as much of the breathing action as possible up in the diaphragm and ribcage. This serves a number of purposes, some of which are:

Really? That’s interesting. Let’s look for some support for that claim too. What does google think about “lung region gas exchange efficiency”? It thinks there is a handful of medical papers that do indeed seem to be in the right general area, but they don't appear to contain the answer to this particular question. Skimming them anyway, I discover that “ventilation/perfusion ratio” appears to be the key technical term – how much air is getting into a particular region of the lung, versus how much blood supply is there to exchange gases with it. Lots of papers about how to measure it, how it deteriorates in emphysema cases, etc. etc., but nothing clearly saying here’s how it varies in different parts of a normal healthy human lung.

So (pulling numbers out of my ass since I couldn’t find them anywhere else) let’s assume a hypthetical ideal ashtangi is breathing using two thirds of their maximum lung capacity, but the third they’re not using is only half as efficient as the rest. But wait – resting breath also uses almost entirely the less efficient lower part of the lungs. So our ashtangi is breathing seven times the volume of a resting breath, but using parts of the lungs that are “twice” (?) as efficient. So the answer could be 14.

That’s per breath. What about breathing rate? I’ve timed my breaths during practice at four per minute during seated meditation at the end, around twenty per minute in strenuous arm balancing postures. Presumably somewhere in between the rest of the time. Where in between? No idea. My resting breath rate? No idea, have never counted it. Probably also somewhere between four and twenty. Does a higher breath rate mean more gas exchange anyway? I guess not necessarily; the air probably has to be in the lungs for a certain amount of time for gas exchange to occur. Coulter has a chart saying something about this too, but I didn’t understand it and I don’t have the book in front of me right now anyway.

Too many unknown variables to actually come up with an answer. It looks as though David Williams’ factor of 23 is on the high side if taken literally, but he’s on to something. A factor of 10 might be vaguely credible.

Couple of links stumbled across whilst “researching” this entry: a huge bibliography of books and research papers on the physiological effects of yoga, one of which is an interesting-sounding book entitled Science of Breath.

[*] Not having yet reached an elightened state of being fully absorbed in the activity of the moment at all times.

related entries: Yoga

mo’ shopping blues

1st October 2005 permanent link

I buy quite a lot of CDs – probably about a hundred a year, although I haven’t been doing it for very long so I “only” have a total collection of about six or seven hundred CDs. That’s not a big collection by some people’s standards. Music critic and blogger Alex Ross thinks he has about ten thousand CDs. My friend Charlie told me he has about two thousand CDs and considerably more vinyl LPs. Eric Grunin has nearly four hundred recordings just of the Eroica. Brian Micklethwait doesn’t give an exact number for his “pathologically gigantic CD collection”, but I recall he once posted a picture of some of it. I can’t find the picture just now but it, too, definitely looked much bigger than mine. Nevertheless I suspect I’m probably still in the top few percent of spenders of money on recorded music. The lady on the cash desk at Ludwig Beck knows me.

Here we finally get to the point of my ramblings about R.L. Burnside and the Smetana Quartet: the number of people in the world who are shopping for music by R.L. Burnside and the Smetana Quartet at any given time probably fluctuates between zero and one. But there are lots and lots of people looking for other things of that sort, and these are precisely the people who buy a lot of recorded music. Or would if they could actually find it, except that actually finding any given piece of even-slightly-outside-the-mainstream music, especially classical, is hopeless and getting worse.

It must be hard-verging-on-impossible for a specialist record shop to be a viable business these days. My guess is that the Ludwig Beck record department is Herr Beck’s personal hobby and subsidised by the clothing store. Zweitausendeins seems to have found a viable bottom-feeder niche. I have no idea what could possibly be going on bei Müller. The cost of carrying huge amounts of slow moving and rapidly depreciating stock must be immense. Even if you do bear that cost, you still can’t possibly have every obscure item that everybody looking for R.L. Burnside and the Smetana Quartet wants; but if you don’t have it right there they’re not going to order it from you any more, they’re going to go to Amazon. Where there’s a pretty good chance of it being available, but good luck finding it with Amazon’s crap search facilities.

Is what I want so very far-fetched? I want to be able to get anything that is currently or has ever been released. I don’t care whether I get things from individual record labels or some kind of distributor, as long as I have a search engine that can easily and reliably find them. I don’t mind compressed digital files as long as they have at least CD-quality sound, minimal DRM, and are substantially cheaper than CDs to fairly reflect their far lower distribution costs (I know bandwidth isn’t free). I don’t mind CDs either, as long as I don’t have to wait weeks to get them shipped from some other country. They take up too much space but in some ways they’re still more convenient: it’s a lot easier to carry a CD into the kitchen than it is to open up my laptop and fire up iTunes. We’re not far off: Amazon has a huge selection of music but weak search; Apple’s online music store has decent search but a pitiful selection.

Meanwhile (says the CD junkie) can anybody point me to where I can find a copy of Yevgeny Mravinsky’s recording of Sibelius’ seventh symphony?

related entries: Music

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