Leap Year

I began writing these chronicles four years ago, in October 2008. The first texts were short, each pointing to a chapter of The India Road. Gradually, my weekly article reached about one thousand words, and the net for topics is now cast pretty wide.

Some ten years ago, Microsoft decided it had missed a major paradigm shift, a little thing called the internet, and Bill Gates set about getting an elephant to pirouette in pointy ballet shoes. What resulted was a swathe of net-centric software, which drove users up the wall with its html obsessions—even now when I create a new document I’m asked if I want to write a blog. Go figure!

It worked very well, though, when I wanted to count how much I’ve scribbled through these last years. I got a perfect pasted collection of my stuff, pictures, links, and all, in a nice Word file. All eight megabytes of it. A kind of snapshot of the last leap year in my life. It feels quite bizarre. One hundred fifty thousand words? It can’t be! Assuming a crap factor of one-third, this is the easiest book I ever wrote. And illustrated!

As I flip through, a blur of events comes in and out of focus, faraway travels, the death of the Rabbit, the collapse of the banks…

After one hundred sixty posts, the geoduck (pronounced gooeyduck) remains the most popular—hardly a day goes by when it doesn’t get read: it has had almost two thousand five hundred views. I would pay hard cash to know why. If you google the duck, there are three-quarters of a million hits. If you google penis there are over two hundred million!

But on this blog, the geoduck rules supreme. China is the biggest geoduck market in the world, and a recent article in the Seattle Times puts it all into perspective.

A single pair of these gleaming mollusks sold at a Puget Sound dock could pay for an upscale Seattle dinner for two. A half-dozen sold in a Hong Kong grocery could fetch nearly enough cash to make a four-figure mortgage payment. Three milk crates of these shellfish purchased at a Shanghai restaurant could pay for a year of undergraduate tuition at the University of Washington.

I can’t honestly say they gleam, having held them in my hand in Shelton, WA., and consumed them in Xiamen, China, where they were plucked from the live seafood tank. But I bet the dollars gleam. In China, the penile ducks are considered an aphrodisiac, not only due to their shape but also their impressive size. Of course in China sea cucumbers are also highly prized, for the same reason—if a creature is unlucky enough to be shaped like a dick, it will be mercilessly hunted.

To me it’s perplexing that swallowing a dick would help you develop one, but that brings on a whole line of reasoning which I really don’t need to inflict on you—after all, we’re celebrating a birthday.

Perhaps the downturn in the Chinese economy will alleviate the suffering of the phallic bivalves. The geoduck’s evolution shows bigger is not always better. In the original post I noted that the bivalve’s longevity is amazing—the animals are slow growing, and live well over a century. I wonder if the Chinese know that. If they do, it’ll definitely help them consume the hapless surrogate.

In parts of China it’s common to be served a dish of long (and I mean long) noodles on the evening before a journey, as a way to wish you a safe trip by way of longevity. But then, superstition in the East is an art form. In an early version of my new book I paid tribute to it, but then I thought it was too much detail and scrapped it.

Fact is, I’d love to know how the Chinese convinced the IOC that the Olympics had to start on the 8th of August 2008 at 8.08 pm, without getting into the technicality that they’re obsessed with the number 8.

Xiamen in the Year of the Dog. Symbolism and superstition in modern-day China.

The internet revolution brought about a generation of connected computers, routers, and switches. Enter wifi, which got rid of the cables. Enter mobile, which is responsible for Google’s stockmarket tumble last week. Triggered by an accidental pre-release of third quarter figures, and fuelled by computerized stock trading, the dive was so swift that the stock was suspended for two hours. When traders panic they jump out of windows, but computers keep at it solidly until the blue screen of death.

Business is unsure about mobile, and how it will affect revenue streams. PC sales are shrinking, tablets are all the rage. I’ve resisted tablets, in the same measure as I resist Twitter, but for altogether different reasons. Tweeting is an exercise in banality—talk is cheap, thought is not. The ability to consolidate a profound thought  into a few words is rare, so good tweets are hard to come by.

Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Grandparents and grandchildren are united by a common enemy.

A stubborn man can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.

Melhor ser rainha por um dia que duquesa toda a vida (better to be queen for a day than duchess for a lifetime).

It doesn’t matter if a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.

Statistics are like men. Properly manipulated, they’ll do anything you want.

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.

No doubt about it: Kennedy, Churchill, and Deng Xiaoping were great twits.

I’m pretty sure I’ll tablet soon, but only when I can travel with only one device. Right now I see people toting a laptop, a tablet, and sometimes a netbook. I have no Moses ambitions, one tablet would be quite enough.

A word of advice, don’t buy one for Xmas like all the mugs, buy it just before the Chinese New Year. We’re coming to the end of the Year of the Dragon, and about to enter the Year of the Snake. China firesales it’s stock prior to their New Year, after fleecing Western consumers at Yuletide.

Funnily enough, Bill Gates was one of the first to dream about a computer on a sheet of paper, although Jobs was the guy who made it come true. Mobile is yet another blow for Microsoft, which seems unable to progress past the operating system and office suites that made it rich. IBM suffered the same fate in the 1980s, when the group that built the first PC at Boca Raton, Florida, was chronically underfunded and understaffed. The mothership didn’t want the new toy cannibalizing its mainframe divisions.

Another big loser is Intel. Long gone are the days of Andy Grove, and the semi-conductor giant now has a trivial segment of mobile chips. These days, it lives with its head in the cloud.

Back in the day, the appearance of a new chip made the news worldwide. Remember the fanfare around the Pentium launch? After that, I was really looking forward to a good bit of Sexium, but alas, moral marketing got in the way.

One of my very first blogs talked about selling books in a digital world. Since then, digital books have come of age. Truly on demand, since they’re just a bunch of bits and bytes. Printing houses, ouch! Physical bookstores? Ten years and they’re history, except in niche situations.

When I was little, books were fairly precious, and poor people didn’t really have any—reading was a class splitter. The Jules Verne series I devoured when I was twelve had illustrations, but these were not children’s books, they were a collection for adults.

The copies I read were decades old, and still used the full twenty-six letters of the Portuguese alphabet, before some language fascist excised k, y, and w. The Rabbit, in one of her regular spring cleaning attacks, put them in the attic, where the books were sacrificed to Eudora, the Greek goddess of rain.

Back to the future. An illuminated bible written in Belgium in AD1407, on dispaly at Malmesbury Abbey, U.K.

When I published The India Road, no maps were included for cost reasons. But this blog always has color images,and they’re free. So e-books will see a return of  images, the ancient monastic art of illumination. Pictures will once again tell a thousand words.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.


One Response to “Leap Year”

  1. nina Says:

    Happy birthday to your blog! It’s awesome. I read it every weekend, please keep writing.

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