alan little’s weblog archive for august 2003

chariots and the age of the rig veda

20th August 2003 permanent link

I’ve written a fairly long piece about the military significance of chariots in the Bronze Age, and why I think the earliest Hindu scripture, the Rig Veda, can’t have been composed much earlier than about 1500 BC. Why? I first came to this subject through my interest in yoga, specifically through reading in Georg Feuerstein’s The Yoga Tradition that the Rig Vedas - the earliest Hindu sculpture and therefore in a sense the root of yoga philosophy - might be far older than western scholars generally used to believe.

I started doing some reading on the subject and discovered that this is a hotly controversial subject in Indian history, bound up with Indian nationalist backlash against British imperialism and with all kinds of domestic political agendas. I find this both fascinating and rather depressing - I’m a retired historian myself (i.e. did a PhD in history before realising that the prospects of actually being able to make a living were better in software) and I still have an interest in looking at controversial historical topics like this and wondering whether there’s any chance of anything other than rival tribes shouting ideology & speculation at each other. There are some people in the field who are genuinely interested in trying to get at what might actually have happened based on the very sketchy evidence available, but are they ever going to be the loudest voices? Probably not.

I will have more to say on this subject but meanwhile, here are my thoughts on what I think is one of the clearest and most obvious reasons why the Vedas can’t be much older than European scholars originally thought.

The Vedic heroes are chariot-riding archers. This single undisputed fact tells us a lot about both the nature and the date of their society. It means that the Vedas - at least the parts that describe chariot warfare and rituals to do with horses - can’t be much older than about 1500 BC. But it also means that the Aryans were living in a sophisticated technological civilization and weren’t a nomadic barbarian horde.

robert drews on chariots and the bronze age kingdoms

American classicist Robert Drews, in two books, outlines his theory that the rise and fall of the the rise and fall of major Bronze Age civilizations in Greece and the Middle East in the second millennium BC can largely be explained by the history of the war chariot as the ultimate weapon of the ancient world.

Summarising very briefly, based on archaeological and linguistic evidence he believes that the war chariot was invented and first put to effective use by people speaking Indo-European and related languages, probably somewhere in Eastern Anatolia / the southern Caucasus, around 1800 to 1600 BC. Circa 1600 Troy and the Hittite empire were founded in Anatolia, Mycenae and other city states arose in Greece, and Minoan Crete was conquered by Greek-speaking rulers from the mainland (other historians question how useful chariots would have been in the mountainous terrain of Greece, and I find it it hard to see how they would have been relevant to a seaborne invasion of Crete). Egypt was briefly conquered by the Hyksos, a group of chariot warriors from the north at least some of whom were Indo-European speakers. In order to fight back successfully against the invaders the Egyptians themselves had to adopt the chariot; and it remained the military basis of the power of the New Kingdom pharaohs, the most famous of whom was Ramses II. Numerous other kingdoms in the Levant and Mesopotamia appear to have been ruled for some time by Indo-European speaking chariot warriors.

Ramses II
Ramses II

Drews assumes that the arrival of the Sanskrit-speaking Vedic people in India was part of this wave of military/political takeovers of already existing civilizations, and speculates that they could have arrived by sea from Mesopotamia rather than overland.

the chariot as the ultimate weapon of the bronze age


The chariot was a complex, expensive, high technology and high maintenance weapon system. Chariot armies required a wide range of professional specialists to build, maintain and fight - chariot-makers, bow-makers, horse breeders and trainers, drivers, archers, scribes who kept detailed records of the royal chariot fleets. According to Linear B tablets from Greece and Crete, royal armies seem to have kept more spare parts in stock than actual operational chariots - a good indication that they were a valuable but fragile piece of state-of-the-art technology. In terms of their cost and technical sophistication relative to the societies that used them, they could perhaps be likened to modern jet fighters.

Maintaining a chariot army also assumes trade links over a wide area - chariots were built from temperate forest hardwoods, but were only of military relevance on open plains and were used in places far away fom any temperate hardwood forests. Birch bark, for example, was used to lash the spokes to the rims of Egyptian chariot wheels; and Ramses II wasn’t growing many birch trees in Egypt. The horse wasn’t native to the chariot kingdoms either; the best horses came from Armenia and were traded all over the Middle East. Bronze weapons also required trade over vast distances - the tin used to make bronze in the Eastern Mediterrannean came from mines hundreds of miles away in Sardinia, or even Cornwall.


There is a fascinating book by on the psychology of warfare by Dave Grossman which offers a number of explanations of why the chariot was such a devastating weapon.

Grossman is a former American special forces officer turned psychologist. He has a fundamentally optimistic view of human nature: he believes that, like nearly all mammals, humans have a strong innate reluctance to kill one another. Primitive tribal warfare in his view is largely aggressive posturing, and much less lethal than it looks. This continues into modern times - as late as the second world war, there is lots of evidence that most soldiers in battle are reluctant to shoot at the enemy and most of the killing is done by a small minority. Grossman maintains that for most people, the psychological stress of having to kill other people in war is actually stronger than the fear of being killed.

One of the fundamental things armies have learned over the centuries, then, is a range of tools and techniques for overcoming the average soldier’s natural reluctance. Grossman’s main interest in this is that he believes these techniques have become far more psychologically sophisticated and effective since the second world war, to the point where they pose a serious danger to modern society. Maybe. But he also discusses how they have evolved over the entire history of warfare, and several of them are relevant to why chariots might have been so effective:

the end of the bronze age

According to Drews’ theory, chariots were the basis of the military power of late Bronze Age kingdoms for several centuries. Around 1200 BC, though, Bronze Age kingdoms collapsed all over the Eastern Mediterranean world. He cites archaeological evidence of almost 50 major cities that were destroyed within a few decades including Troy, Mycenae, Knossos and the Hittite capital of Hattusas. The longest established civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia survived, but the golden age of the pharaohs was over. Elsewhere, there was a ’dark age’ lasting several centuries until the rise of iron age civilizations such as pre-classical Greece. Why the collapse? Drews discusses a number of theories that have been put forward:

Invasions by migrating barbarian hordes from the north. Indo-European speaking migrating Aryan hordes were a favourite fantasy of European nationalist historians in the nineteenth century - but there simply isn’t much evidence for them, either in India or the Middle East. What archaeological evidence there is for the post-collapse world shows no sign of the existing populations having been displaced by invaders with a different culture. It does suggest that the surviving populations were living in a world with much lower levels of wealth, safety and political stability.

Destruction by massive acts of god - earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. This one is a favourite among pop historians and the general public - but again, the evidence doesn’t fit. The damage to the cities that were destroyed isn’t consistent with earthquake damage; it is consistent with them having been sacked and burned in wars. Some of the famous cities that were destroyed - Knossos, Mycenae, Troy - were in earthquake zones, but lots weren’t. And there is no evidence from any period of known history of earthquakes so devastating that they end civilizations. Cities get destroyed, but the survivors rebuild them and carry on much as they did before.

’Systems collapse’ - the Bronze Age kingdoms collapse under the weight of their own internal social/economic failings. Drought, or famine, or shortage of tin to make bronze; over-dependence of the palace elites on international trade in a few valuable commodities; risings of oppressed peasants against their (often foreign) rulers. These ideas have been favourites among Marxist-influenced writers since the British historian Gordon Childe in the 1940s - but Drews sees little actual evidence for them. They don’t explain the sudden destruction of cities: why would an unarmed and downtrodden peasantry suddenly be able to overthrow kingdoms with professional armies that had successfully oppressed them for hundreds of years? And they don’t explain why, as far as we can see from the written evidence, the royal administrations were functioning smoothly right up to the day the cities burned.

Drews’ own theory is that the kingdoms were overthrown, not by their own oppressed peasants or by invading hordes from far away, but by soldiers from semi-barbaric territories on the fringes of the civilized world who had previously been employed as mercenaries in the royal armies. He points to archaeological evidence that armour suitable for light, mobile infantry started to be widely made and used around this time; effective swords were first invented in Italy and the Balkans and were soon copied in Greece and the rest of the civilized world; and javelins seem to have been far more commonly used as a military weapon than they ever were before or since. Putting all this together, he believes that light infantry had been employed all along by the chariot armies, as skirmishers and support for the chariots. These soldiers were mostly foreign mercenaries, not natives of the kingdoms. The kingdoms were ruled by tiny elites, some of them foreign to the populations they ruled, who certainly would not have wanted their peasants to have effective weapons and military training; barbarian boys from the hills were also fitter and tougher than peasants from the river valleys. Some time around 1200 BC, helped by improved weapons and armour - javelins to bring down the horses, armour and swords to fight the crews - the mercenaries realised that they could beat the chariots and loot the wealth of the kingdoms. The rule of the kings and their chariot warriors was over.

but what does any of this have to do with india and the vedas?

dating the vedas

There is no evidence of lightweight chariots existing anywhere in the world before about 2000 BC at the earliest. There is no evidence of war chariots having been of great military significance before about 1650 BC. In India, archaeological evidence of horses existing at all before about 1500 BC is at best sketchy and controversial. Anybody who believes in a date much earlier than circa 1500 BC for the Vedas (and some have suggested dates earlier than 4000 BC) therefore has a big job to do explaining away chariots. Some possible explanations could be:

  1. Chariots did in fact exist, and were the ultimate weapon system, in India hundreds or even thousands of years before they were known in the rest of the civilised world - but they left no archaeological evidence, and nobody anywhere else heard of them or managed to copy them, even though there were undoubtedly trade and cultural links between the Indus Valley civilization in India (circa 2700 to 1800 BC) and Mesopotamia. Which seems highly unlikely.
  2. Some parts of the Veda are, indeed, much older but the parts describing chariot warfare are later additions. This isn’t completely out of the question - an obvious parallel would be, for example, Mediaeval European paintings of the Trojan War or classical battles, where ancient Greeks and Romans were often shown with Mediaeval European-style armour and weapons. Either the artists had no historical sense of things having been much different in the past, or they just showed what they thought their patrons expected to see. The people who put the Vedas into their final form could have grafted anachronistic descriptions of warfare and horse sacrifices onto much older material. This is perhaps possible, but doesn’t seem at all likely - all commentators on the Vedas appear to regard horses and chariots as absolutely central to Vedic culture, not something that could easily have been added later.
  3. Chariot warfare arose in India about the same time as it did in the rest of the civilized world and probably in the same way - brought by a relatively small conquering army of Indo-European speaking chariot warriors who orginally came from somewhere in the Middle East, probably eastern Anatolia. In other words, the chariots in the Vedas strongly suggest that there was some kind of ’Aryan Invasion’, although it was not anything like the migrating barbarian horde that nineteenth century European nationalists dreamt up.

vedic society

What can we infer from all this about the nature of Vedic society? Who are the Aryan heroes?

If they are charioteers, they cannot possibly be semi-barbaric pastoral nomads. They are a professional warrior elite in a sophisticated society that can support a wide range of specialised professional skills, long-distance trade and complex technology.

They might well have been a distinct linguistic and cultural group within their society. According to Drews there is lots of evidence from the Near East that civilized Bronze Age societies were multi-lingual and multi-cultural, not the homogenous ’racial’ units of nineteenth and early twentieth century European nationalist fantasies. There is also evidence - for example from widespread borrowings of Indo-European horse and chariot words in other languages - that within these mixed societies, Indo-Europeans had a traditional role and reputation as horse trainers and chariot soldiers. Drews cites several examples of societies where people with Indo-European names lived alongside people with non-Indo-European names, and the Indo-Europeans appear to be disporoportionately concentrated in the court and the military.

The Vedic Aryans have a common cultural heritage with western Indo-Europeans that must have diverged after the chariot became an important part of the culture, i.e. after about 1900 to 1800 BC at the earliest, more likely after around 1600 BC. Vedic, Roman, Greek and Celtic culture have very similar rituals and myths involving chariot horses and ’heavenly twins’ who may well have originated as driver-and-archer chariot teams.

Even if Sanskrit-speaking Aryans brought the chariot to India, and became a dominant warrior elite as a result, this does not means that they were an invading horde that displaced the native population. They could equally well have been a small group of professional soldiers who started off as mercenaries serving an existing ruling elite, until eventually they built up the confidence to overthrow it and take power themselves. There are lots of historical examples of that sort of thing happening - see for example the entire later Roman Empire; and mediaeval Islam from Saladin in the Crusades, to the rise of the Ottomans.


On the rise and fall of the chariot as the ultimate weapon in the Eastern Mediterrannean and the Near East and its political and social implications, my main source is two interesting books by Robert Drews:

The Coming of the Greeks - Indo-European Conquests in the Aegean and Near East, 1988. ISBN 0-691-02951-2

The End of the Bronze Age - changes in warfare and the catastrophe ca. 1200B.C., 1993. ISBN 0-691-02591-6

Dave Grossman’s book is:

On Killing - the psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society, 1996. ISBN 0-316-33011-6

Discussion ...


2nd January 2004

“There is no evidence of lightweight chariots existing anywhere in the world before about 2000 BC at the earliest”. Oops. Yes there is. Whilst reading up on a new theory about the origins of of the Indo-European languages, I came across references to discoveries in the mid-1990s of chariots in an area called Sintashta-Petrovka in the southern Urals, dated to 2100 BC. See particularly this sci.archaeology posting by S.M. Stirling. Apparently they are of a design similar to later Middle Eastern war chariots, although less advanced (e.g. narrower wheelbase, so less stable). This is interesting.

related entries: Yoga

quiet spell

18th August 2003 permanent link

The server move, plus the fact that my sister came over from England last week to meet her new nephew, meant no updates here for a few days.

I'm also still maintaining this weblog by hand, and writing stuff isn't a problem but maintaining permalinks, sidebar links etc. is really getting to be too much of a pain. Which is good - it motivates to get on (in my copious free time with a new contract gig and a baby at home) with producing my weblogging system. And the fact that the available time for development is basically when I'm on the train to & from the day job means that I've pretty much decided to go with python rather than java, despite the flakiness and immaturity of the python environment, because I still think the language itself is more productive and more fun.

More on this soon (my previous musings on python and java produced three quarters of the email responses to this blog so far - thank you Roger, Kimbro and Stephen. Actually, I'm amazed that anybody has even read my baby weblog so far, let alone responded to it). Also coming soon, in case server-side python development isn't obscure enough: why chariots were the ultimate weapon system of the late Bronze Age, and why that means the Rig Veda can't have been composed much earlier than about 1500 BC ...


18th August 2003 permanent link

I'm moving to a new hosting service at I've actually never had any problems with the old hosting service, but I want to start putting some of my web development projects out in the open and the old hosting service doesn't support the tools I want to use (java and/or python). Plus the fact that I was living on a Windows server was becoming increasingly embarrassing.

Rimu provide virtual hosting on Linux, which means I get virtual root and can play around with my own installations of Apache, Tomcat etc. to my heart's content, and install whatever other weird & wonderful tools I feel like playing with, all for about a third of what the cheapest real private server would cost me. (I have no idea who or what a "rimu" is, but the company is based in New Zealand so I'm hoping he or she is a Maori god of rock-solid technical reliability and superlative customer service).

I have fractionally more than no Unix admin knowledge whatsoever, but certainly not enough to actually say I know what I'm doing. So this is going to be an adventure and it's entirely possible - quite likely in fact - that there will be outages of over the next week or two when the cutover from the old host doesn't go smoothly or I break something.

I've also reactivated my old hotmail account so that (a) I have an emergency mail address that I can still use when I bugger up the mail configuration on the new server, and (b) I can harvest a nice big crop of spam that I can use to train a Bayesian mail filter on the new server, if & when I ever manage to get mail working at all. (Despite having had unobfuscated mailto links all over my website for years, I get disappointingly little spam on "contact at alanlittle dot org")

nokia 3650 second impressions

11th August 2003 permanent link

Bought a bluetooth USB thingie, got it working between my iBook and the phone, copied my phone numbers from the SIM card into the Nokia’s internal address book and, after a little bit of messing about with firewall settings on the iBook, iSync had the address books on the phone and the iBook both up to date. Excellent. This is the first time in years I’ve had one consistent, up to date address book - ever since I had the Psion Series 3 and a mobile phone and no means of keeping them in step.

Then I thought “ah, now I can also sync the iBook and the desktop with iSync without having to shell out $100 for a .Mac account”. I had previously thought I could do this by just running webdav on one of the Macs, until I found out that iSync doesn’t use webdav, and simulating how it does work is a non-trivial reverse engineering research project. Doing it via the phone works well enough, although I lose information that the address book on the phone doesn’t support like groups and country-specific address formats. (Also haven’t yet found out where to switch off the phone’s address book’s silly & irritating default display of last name, first name. Thought at first this might be a concession to German over-formality, until I switched the phone to English and it still did it.)

Step 2. iSync doesn’t support calendar and to-do list data on the 3650, but changing the line in the xml config file where it’s switched off takes ten seconds, and works. Now I have those nicely coordinated too.

The calendar and to do list apps on the phone are rudimentary - disappointingly nowhere near as nice as the ones on the Psion Series 3. And of course, the other end of the sync link isn’t so wonderful either: the to-do list functions in iCal could be generously described as Just Barely Adequate. I know I could buy decent organiser packages both for the Mac and the phone; but then I probably wouldn’t be able to sync them reliably and I’d be back to square one. Rudimentary, in sync and in my pocket is better than good but somewhere else.

pictures of jack

11th August 2003 permanent link

I was thinking of having a “Photo Of Jack Of The Week” section in my weblog; but then I thought about it and realised that doing regular jobs on a repetitive schedule is not one of my strengths (ask anybody who’s ever worked with me), so “sporadic photos of Jack whenever I happen to feel like it” is what I’m going to do instead. Here’s one of my recent favourites, which also happens to be one of the very few photos of me that I really like. (In my experience it’s generally much safer to be the one behind the camera).

Alan & Jack

That one was taken on a cheap & basic Yashica 35mm point & shoot camera - albeit one that is actually something of a cult among photographers for being a cheap & basic point & shoot camera that just happens to have a world class Zeiss lens.(*)

In the interests of science, let’s unfairly compare that to another picture very similar in its subject matter and composition and taken by the same photographer (the number one woman in Alan and Jack’s lives), but on a rather different camera - namely, a telephone.

Alan & Jack

Here’s what I see: the Nokia picture as it comes from the camera isn’t very sharp. It sharpens up surprisingly nicely in Photoshop, but even at this size it still clearly isn’t as sharp as the real photo. The exposure on the skin tones is absolutely spot on, but the sunlit part of the hammock on the left is burnt out. The colour balance is way too blue/magenta.

The combination of quite possibly the best lens ever put in a cheap camera, with the world’s finest-grained colour portrait film, gives the Yashica picture somewhere in the region of fifty times more effective resolution than the Nokia’s awe-inspiring quarter of a megapixel. I could get away with printing the film image at 12” x 18”; I’d be pushing my luck at 2” x 3” with the picture from the Nokia.

But the phone reception on the Yashica is lousy; whereas the Nokia definitely the takes the best pictures I’ve ever taken with a telephone.

related entries: Photography

alan and computer security

9th August 2003 permanent link

I was having some trouble getting iSync to talk to my phone, so I posted a message on Apple’s help forums and sure enough, a couple of hours later a helpful guy called Paul Jones pointed out the cause of the problem. But he suggested that I needed to turn my firewall off. Turn my firewall off? Is he insane? Or is he waiting round the corner with some kind of Bluetooth intrusion device just waiting to get into my Mac? Fortunately, I then remembered having read somewhere else that iSync needs ports 3000 to 3004 open, so rather than turning the firewall off I just opened those.

But wait. Now all three readers of my weblog know that I have ports 3000 to 3004 open.

Which led me to some musings about Computer Security The Alan Way. At home my PCs live behind a NAT router so they should be fairly safe. Except that they talk to the router via unsecured WiFi. I tried switching WEP on once, at which point the iBook couldn’t talk to the router any more. I didn’t have time to investigate at the time so I just (hooked up to the router with an ethernet cable and) switched WEP off again. And off it has stayed ever since. WEP is useless anyway. At least I don’t broadcast my network name.

In any case, I live in a leafy Munich suburb full off law-abiding German pensioners, where teenage crackers with WiFi antennae are few and far between. Unlike at work, where I had connection requests from three of my new colleagues within minutes of switching bluetooth on on the phone. (And in fact there’ a high school two hundred yards away from home, so I may be being a little overoptimistic there too). Whatever. Given no security on the WiFi, having firewalls on the Macs even though they live behind a NAT router seems like a good idea.

This may be a good time to also confess that I haven’t changed the admin password on for three years, and it’s only one character different from the password on my late unlamented hotmail account. Not to mention the unobfuscated mailto links that are still all over my older web pages. I’ll tidy them up one day though. After I’ve got WEP working and changed the admin password on

The scary thing is, I suspect I’m probably more careful than most. After all, I do backups at least every third month, to an external drive that lives in a secure offsite location several feet away from the main PC.

(Paul Jones also kindly pointed me to a Nokia website where I can get about six different versions of Tetris. What a nice man. Goodbye life.)

installation day

8th August 2003 permanent link

Thursday was Day One of a new consulting gig - actually not so new, back with a client I’ve done work for a couple of times before. Go and visit the old team; learn interesting & useful German phrases such as der Täter kehrt zum Tatort zurück (“the criminal returns to the scene of the crime”). Nice to know one’s work has been appreciated in one’s absence. Apart from this absolutely job-relevant cross-team liaison activity, it’s Software Installation Day. Hurrah. It’s a Windows shop. I do so enjoy watching Windows reboot. (Good job I have the new phone to play with). At least they’re on Windows 2000 now - last time I was here they were still using NT.

So, what are the basics that we need for a minimally civilised existence in Windowsland?

related entries: Programming

nokia 3650 first impressions

7th August 2003 permanent link

I just got a Nokia 3650 phone and I’m delighted with it. I’ve been thinking about getting one for a while; but even a month ago they were selling for 160 euros with a two year contract. Suddenly my current mobile phone provider is offering them for 49 euros with contract. Thanks very much, I’ll take one.

I’m not quite as excited about it as Russell Beattie , though:

This is it. This is THE mobile phone. This is the one that’s going to usher in the mobile revolution that’s been building for years.

This is in no sense an attempt at a serious review, just some things that have struck me in the first couple of days with my new toy.

it’s not only a nice phone, but a full-strength organiser running (a distant descendant of) the same OS as my late beloved Psion Series 3. The only thing it lacks is a decent input device - but it can sync to a PC, and I guess it can probably be made to work with BlueTooth keyboards too although I haven’t looked into that yet. The PDA is dead.

Having proper organiser functions is no use on a device without a keyboard unless you can synch it properly with a master database on a PC. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve re-keyed my address book into various incompatible devices over the years, and I hope the 3650 will save me from ever having to do it again. Here the current state of play with Macs and iSync seems to be about three quarters of the way to working properly. Contacts are supposed to synch properly via iSync and Bluetooth; synching calendar entries and to-dos is not supported yet. Apparently there’s a one-line hack to an iSync config file that sort of works for most people - I will of course be trying it as soon as I get round to buying a BlueTooth thingie for my iBook.

I’m not findng the user interface particularly intuitive. The things you want to do are generally there, but hidden deep in modal menus. Given the very limited screen real estate and input possibilities it’s clear that doing any kind of software for this thing would be a hard UI challenge.

The built-in camera for me is an irrelevant gimmick. It played no part in my decision to get the phone and I’d be just as happy without it. Nevertheless I found it interesting that the French photography magazine Chasseur d’Images - one of the most serious and respected photography magazines in the world - ran a review of camera phones in their March-April issue. The Nokia 7650 placed second to the Sony Ericsson P800; the 3650 presumably wasn’t out in time for the review, although it did make it onto the cover.

The shape isn’t quite right. It’s not as bulky and inconvenient as the Nokia 7650 or the P800 - which, whatever the boys at Mobitopia may say, are just too big and clumsy for telephones. Compared to my previous phone, a primitive and not particularly small Nokia 5110, the 3650 looks significantly bigger in the shop but actually isn’t. It’s about the same length and slightly lighter, but it’s broader and flatter and doesn’t sit as comfortably in my hand. I could see it being really uncomfortable for people with small hands.

Me having this phone is going to be a financial disaster for the phone company. They’ve just given me this expensive state of the art phone at a ridiculously low price in the hope that I’m going to pay them lots of money to send photos to people at exorbitant rates, and I’m not going to. It’s bad news for Sony Ericsson too - their flagship P800 is still over 400 euros even with a contract, and at that price with the competing Nokias at 50 euros, bye bye Sony Ericsson. No wonder they just closed their Munich office.

Oh, and can anyone recommend a decent version of Tetris?

paul brunton

6th August 2003 permanent link

The first yoga-related entry in this ongoing experiment of having one weblog for everything, including things that would previously have gone in my yoga links & notes weblog.

When I was in India I quite by chance found and read a book called A Search In Secret India by Paul Brunton. I was very impressed by it and wrote about it in my yoga weblog, but I knew nothing about the author except that for an Englishman writing in the 1930s, he showed remarkable open-mindedness and respect for what were then quite esoteric aspects of Indian culture. So I was very interested to find this biographical article about him by Georg Feuerstein.

Feuerstein is a well known and generally highly regarded yoga historian and researcher. I am actually sceptical of some aspects of his scholarship (for reasons I might write about at length at some point), but I see no reason to doubt the accuracy of anything in this article.

related entries: Yoga

weblog design (1) - sidebar links

4th August 2003 permanent link

Part One of a series of design notes which will grow into a functional spec for Alan’s Personal Weblogging Tool. (Which needs a better name). I will be building the functional spec in parallel with the code. Yay. Evolutionary Software Design.

Sidebar links. This is an area where I want to try to do fancy stuff that I don’t think any if the available weblogging tools do.

related entries: Programming

itunes (not much) music store

4th August 2003 permanent link

Out of curiosity I thought I would fire up iTunes and have a look at what I would be able to buy at the iTunes Music Store if there was actually any chance of it working in Europe in the foreseeable future. Doesn’t look like I’m missing much though.

I look for London tabla’n’bass geniuses Badmarsh & Shri. Nada.

OK, maybe the London Asian not-so-underground-any-more is still a bit too much to ask of an American website. How about one of the most famous Indian classical musicians, Hariprasad Chaurasia. Not nothing, but very little.

Perhaps I’m being just a bit wilfully obscure. OK, surely we can’t get much more mainstream than ... Artist: Led Zeppelin. "Your search did not match any results". This cannot be real. Song: Stairway to Heaven (note: not my favourite Zeppelin song, just a test case). Oh yes, no problem, we can offer you Stairway to Heaven performed by Neil Sedaka or the O’Jays. Thanks very much.

Last try. Something modern and mainstream and American - Artist: Liz Phair, Song : Go West. it’s my favourite Liz Phair song and Liz is even featured on the front page, surely we can’t go wrong here. Yes we can. We have every Liz Phair album except the one that that song is on. Which I bought on CD because of that one song and then found I wasn’t wild about the rest of the album - exactly the sort of thing I thought iTMS was going to save me from, but it looks like I’d better not hold my breath.

Really last try: I’ve been wondering about the Blondie album before Parallel Lines, because I’ve heard one song from it that I think is great. After all (quite apart from the fact that I’m showing my age here, and regular TV appearances by Debbie Harry were a highlight of my adolescence), Blondie were surely by any standard a famous American band, right? Even the current generation of American music buyers must have heard of Blondie? Maybe I can see what else is on that album without having to make a trip to the used CD shop. No I can’t. We have one song by Blondie.

And people say this thing is supposed to be good?

related entries: Mac Music

i don't get rss

3rd August 2003 permanent link

I don't get RSS.

This may mean I'm terminally technically un-hip, but I've tried out NetNewsWire Lite a couple of times and I just don't see what it does for me that a set of bookmarked tabs in Mozilla or Safari doesn't. Let's see: a set of bookmarked tabs:

A set of bookmarked tabs can't:

... but that's a feature not a bug. I already spend far too much time catching up on news in the morning before I start doing any actual work, I don't want that spilling over into the rest of my day too.

There are a couple of important things that neither a browser nor an RSS reader can do for me at the moment:

(*) Examples of indispensable tech news and commentary sites that don't have RSS feeds - Clay Shirky, David Isenberg, Jerry Pournelle. Plus of course Lileks and the What's New page on Luminous Landscape, my favourite photography site.

This doesn't mean I won't be providing an RSS feed at some point when my weblog generating tool becomes more sophisticated than just me and BBEdit - I don't get it but clearly lots of people do.

related entries: Programming


2nd August 2003 permanent link

One of the things I enjoy about living in Germany and learning the language is how direct German vocabulary is – there's just one set of words, they don't have the English thing of every word having a down-to-earth Anglo-Saxon (aka German) version for some purposes and a fancy French or Latin version for other purposes(*), or every concept having six nearly-synonyms with slightly different shades of meaning. There are some cases though, where German has words that are more expressive than any English equivalents. One of these you only get to learn, as a man, if you live with a breastfeeding mother and her baby.

German has a special word, nukkeln, for “being on the breast and appearing to go through the motions of sucking, but not actually eating anything either because the baby is too lazy or because it just wants its mum for comfort”(**), which is different from the word for feeding properly, which is saugen. Strangely the leading brand of baby-feeding products in Germany is called “Nuk”. Both of these words are different again from the word for a baby sucking its thumb, which is lutschen. And none of the above, as far as I know, has the same negative meaning as the English word “suck” when used non-literally.

(*) take as an example the German word for the holes in your nose that you breathe through. The Germans don't need some fancy French nonsense like nostrils – what for when you can just say Nasenlöcher, “nose holes”? How could anybody not like a language where the word for nostrils is “nose holes”?

(**) Nukkeln is particularly expressive when said in a strong Bavarian accent by our visiting midwife Frau Mayer. Frau Mayer is a saint without whom I would not be a sane man today. Although you might reasonably question whether writing a weblog entry on German terms for breastfeeding for no apparent reason is evidence of being a sane man.

related entries: Language

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