alan little’s weblog archive for august 2004

holiday yoga

31st August 2004 permanent link

Does doing extra hip-opening excercises in addition to your formal yoga practice actually help to advance (the physical aspects of) your yoga practice? Most ashtanga yoga practitioners would say no, whilst in many cases sneakily doing them anyway in the hope that they might. Here are my recent experiences and thoughts on the matter, derived from comparing lifestyle a: office job, toddler at home with lifestyle b: on holiday with toddler:

working in office on holiday with toddler
you spent lots of time sitting down, and so can sit for hours in half lotus or similar supposedly hip-opening positions.
(your colleagues may find this a little odd at first. They get used to it)
you rarely sit down
you can maybe squeeze forty minutes or so of yoga practice in in the evening while the baby is having supper (after you’ve put him to bed you’re tired and it’s too late)(*).
(Mornings? forget it. You have to change the baby, feed the baby, dress the baby, pack the baby’s lunch, change the baby again, deliver the baby to daycare, and at some point eventually go to work.)
you can do a full yoga practice every afternoon while the rest of the family has a siesta
your hips feel subjectively quite open due to all the sitting, but when you actually try something like marichyasana d during your practice it’s really hard your hips feel tight and sore from all the not-sitting, but your practices are actually good and things you normally find hard like marichyasana d or supta kurmasana come relatively easily.

So lots of time sitting in half lotus etc. outside of formal yoga practice feels like it should help, but actually doesn’t. Or at any rate isn’t a substitute for doing enough proper practice.

(*) Or not, if instead you get to waste an hour pissing about with network settings and thinking “why, oh why will the new network card I just bought for my new Powerbook not connect to my home network when every other bloody machine in the house will?” before giving up and asking the question on the Apple support forums. As I just did. I hate computers when they don’t work.
UPDATE: kudos to Netgear, whose online support actually works. A search on their site for “Apple Airport Extreme” tells me that I should upgrade the firmware on my MR814v2 router. I do. It works.

related entries: Yoga Mac

more vedic

31st August 2004 permanent link

Interesting discussion at gene expression, summarising the results of several recent papers on the genetics and possible origins of indian caste populations. I've also previously discussed some of these here. See in particular Razib’s comments on how radically different male and female lineages appear, and how upper caste female infanticide could have been a major factor favouring upward mobility of lower caste women.

UPDATE: more sensible commentary by razib here about the impact of genetics on the study of history. Razib is an extremely bright guy.

related entries: Yoga

italian architecture

27th August 2004 permanent link

Thoughts on old Italian architecture, Part One:

It sometimes looks very pretty …

evening street scene, Siena
evening street scene, Siena

Siena cathedral at dusk
Siena cathedral at dusk

window, Soave
window, Soave

… but I wouldn’t want to live in it.

Coming soon, maybe: more thoughts on why, and Chris Alexander.

related entries: Photography

my other new toy

27th August 2004 permanent link

Pascale Willi emailed me to ask for my impressions of my new Nikon D70. Here are some. These are just thoughts as they occur to me, not an attempt at a systematic review. I like it. I haven’t printed anything from it yet and I haven’t shot extensively with any other good digital camera.

instant feedback

Is nice, and you shoot more with digital because an individual shot costs nothing. You can have several goes at a shot until you get it something like right. This should be good for one’s photography – or should it? I worry that it might encourage a less focused (mentally), contemplative attitude to picture taking. We shall see. This is not a controlled experiment, though – my chances of doing any contempative art photography whilst travelling with a toddler would be pretty much nil with any camera.


Excellent for me. Sits nicely in my hand with every lens I’ve used it with. Very much a right-handed design, but then so are pretty much all modern SLRs, so left handers presumably must be used to it. Menus & buttons are ok, there were only a couple of things I had difficulty remembering/finding when I didn’t have the book with me (selecting autofocus points, using the self timer).

build quality

Feels solid enough. I was walking about with it in a light shower yesterday and wasn’t worried.

battery life

I haven’t had any problems. Have shot hundreds of frames over two or three days, with a lot of reviewing on the LCD and some fill flash, without emptying the battery. Bought a generic no-name spare battery on ebay for $10 (compared to the $40 that Nikon want for printing their name on one) anyway just in case.


Is clear and bright enough, but small. Compared to my other Nikons (an FM2 and an F801s) it’s sharper but smaller. Small enough to possibly make it diffcult to compose effectively with. Not remotely in the same league as the wonderful finder on a friend’s D1x that I had a brief play with.


Said to be the same metering system as the legendary F5 but with more up to date software. Whatever. It’s hard to get it to do anything wrong. Fill flash metering is consistently spot on. Digital sensor can’t handle anywhere near the contrast range of black & white film, but that’s a different matter.

no mirror lock

Pretty much rules the D70 out for serious landscape photography, but so does the fact that it’s 6 megapixels and so at best roughly equivalent to 35mm film.

sensor dust

I have some. It’s trivially easy to clean up if falls in a fairly blank area of the picture such as the sky, a pain in the ass if it’s right on top of some crucial detail. Much less of a pain in the ass than spending hours spotting dust and scratches on film scans though.


Is a dream compared to working with scanned film. No hours of scanning, no hours spotting dust & scratches, no hours pissing about with colour balance. Noise is so low that you can easily just sharpen the whole picture instead of having to construct elaborate edge masks to avoid sharpening grain as you do with scanned film.

Being able to switch ISO at will without worrying about what film you have with you is great too, as is not having to reload film every few minutes. Having to have some means of backing your pictures up would be a major drawback for serious travel/backpacking photography; but so is trying to keep film from getting baked on week long desert hikes.


I’ve never used a modern autofocus camera before. Autofocus is great. I consistently get sharp shots of still subjects with a 50mm f1.8 wide open. I can’t do that focusing manually.

I haven’t tried any focus tracking of fast moving objects (e.g. my son) since I found the menu option to switch the AF to continuous tracking, so I can’t comment on how well that works.


The 18-70 zoom that comes as a kit lens is getting good reviews and is a pretty decent general purpose lens. But it’s no substitute for fast primes for low light and portraits. Take a look at these pictures of my son. Most of them were taken with the zoom, two of them with a 50mm f1.8 prime. To my eye it’s obvious which are which. It’s nice that a humble and cheap 50mm f1.8 is almost the same effective focal length on this camera as a significantly more expensive 85mm portrait lens.

It’s nice, too, that my relatively humble but optically excellent 180mm f2.8 that I bought years ago for about $600 used is now almost equivalent to a 300mm f2.8 costing several times as much. I’m tempted by the new 1.7x teleconverter for $400 or so that would make it into a nearly 500mm f4.5. I have no idea what one of those costs except that it’s probably an order of magnitude more.

It’s less nice that my nice wide 24mm is now a not very wide at all 36mm, that the 18-70 zoom at the wide end isn’t quite as wide and that something as wide as the 24mm would cost a lot more money. Like most people I have difficulty composing effective wide angle shots and can’t really handle anything wider than 24mm. But I have a fairly good success rate with the 24 and have taken a lot of my favourite pictures with it since I got it (used, cheap) three years ago. 27mm equivalent isn’t quite wide enough.

related entries: Photography

what i did on my holidays

27th August 2004 permanent link

Bavaria to Tuscany and back, via a couple of days in the Austrian Alps to, among other things, send Tim Oren some Arnies and, on the way back, a short visit to some friends near Verona. Two thousand kilometres with a small child in a car not as hard as we feared it might be, and Tuscany idyllic.

The target audience for these pictures of Jack on holiday is his grandparents, but anybody else is welcome to have a look too.

but before i go …

15th August 2004 permanent link

Some more things I learned today:

related entries: Mac

no spirituogram?

15th August 2004 permanent link

I was looking through some old yoga magazines before I went to bed last night, and found an interesting advert in an old copy of Yoga Journal.

The ad was for a book on “Synchronicity High Tech Meditation”, by a bloke with a dodgy hairdo styling himself “Master Charles”. Master Charles claims that his method “yields at least a fourfold acceleration factor over classical methods of meditation”. I haven’t got to the interesting bit yet.

The interesting bit is this: Master Charles’ claim of fourfold acceleration is based on EEG studies of the brainwaves of Zen meditators with various levels of experience, and claims that they are similar to the brainwaves of practitioners of his method with substantially less experience. He cites several scientific studies of Zen meditators that sound worth looking at:

No links because the ad was in a 1995 magazine, so I mention this here largely to remind myself to look some of this stuff up later.

Thoughts: there is a spirituogram. It doesn’t matter whether one believes that there is only the material universe , and learning to induce particular states of brain activity is enlightenment; or that enlightenment truly is a state of union with something outside the material world, but it happens to produce a particular measurable brainwave state as an epiphenomenon; either way it seems that the mental condition is clearly detectable in numerous studies of Buddhist meditators and some studies of yoga practitioners. I don’t know how cumbersome EEG equipment is: I suspect doing an advanced yoga asana practice whilst wearing it might be quite a bit harder than doing a sitting zen practice.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to rush out and buy Master Charles’ book. Even if it actually works and the degree of enlightenment one can achieve with five years of “Synchronicity High Tech Meditation” is comparable to twenty years of zen or yoga practice, I’m enough of a hair shirt Luddite to say so what? What’s wrong with doing twenty years of zen or yoga? And then there’s always the risk that the brainwave state is just an epiphenomenon and you might be spending five years just to learn to fake the outward appearance of something. Plus I’m automatically suspicious of people with pseudonyms and dodgy hairdos, even if they do put interesting things in their ads.

related entries: Yoga

my new laptop

14th August 2004 permanent link

Things I learned today:

And that’s it for the next two weeks. I am going on holiday. I am taking my yoga mat and my new Nikon D70. I am also taking the new Powerbook but only for (a) playing DVDs for Jack in the car, (b) backing up photos. I have no intention of going anywhere near the Internet.

related entries: Mac

wish i was there

9th August 2004 permanent link

Flying Monkey is an interesting current Mysore yoga weblog, particularly good on Indian culture shock and the experience I also had, of thinking you’re quite well settled in and then suddenly after a while – in may case after about four months – just losing the ability to cope and needing to go home.

Describes Sharath, Pattabhi Jois’s grandson and a truly marvellous yoga teacher in his own right, as “unprepossessing”. I hope he doesn’t think “unprepossessing” means what I think it means. “Unassuming”, perhaps.

Also interesting: says Harini of the Three Sisters offers ayurvedic massage for women only. I hung out at Three Sisters almost every day when I was in Mysore and don’t remember being aware of that (but then I don’t come under the “women” heading). Says Harini’s massage guru is called Vijay. On my first trip to India I was treated by an ayurvedic masseur called Vijay in Kerala who fixed my old knee problem – a story I’ve been meaning to continue telling for a while now. This Vijay, the Kerala / Alan’s knee one, is right up there in my estimation with Pattabhi Jois and Sharath among Top Bodywork Geniuses I Have Known. I wonder if it’s the same guy? Wouldn’t surprise me.

UPDATE: it is the same guy

Found via the sunrise ruby via

related entries: Yoga

henri cartier bresson r.i.p.

7th August 2004 permanent link

Henri Cartier-Bresson is dead. H C-B is most famous for his work as a photojournalist in the fifites and sixties. In later life he returned to his first love, drawing, and did much less photography. His later work includes some truly beautiful landscape photography, though, for example this wonderful impressionistic riverscape:

Île sur la Sorgue by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Île sur la Sorgue, by Henri Cartier-Bresson

I’ve walked along that riverbank. I couldn’t have taken that picture. Not because of lack of technical skill – because I wouldn’t have seen that there was a picture there. The greats see differently.

Online galleries of Cartier Bresson’s work at Magnum, the world famous photo agency that H C-B co-founded in 1949, and here where prints of his work are for sale. (I haven’t enquired about the prices. I suspect I wouldn’t like it if I did). appears to be grosssly overloaded at the moment, which isn’t surprising.

related entries: Photography

my new toy – preliminary results

6th August 2004 permanent link

Even a Condition Red project sometimes has spells where you’re sitting waiting for perfomance tests to finish and have done everything else you can find the motivation(*) to do. So, on the basis that making yourself write something while you’re waiting for a test run to finish is better than (more) surfing the web – but that “something” needs to be mentally unstrenuous – here is a Grossan Nasal Irrigator Interim Experience Report.

This summer so far has not been a rigorous test of an anti-hayfever system – we just had the official Coldest July For Ten Years in Bavaria. (Superstitious people will doubtless attribute this, like last year’s Hottest Summer Since Records Began, to Global Warming. Aka sunspots.) Nevertheless we have had a few of the hot thundery afternoons we tend to get in Munich, being so close to the Alps. In the past, days like that have been absolute nightmares for me – the approaching thunder (static electricity?) seems to make more pollen hang in the air, or something. Normally just before a thunderstorm I’m a sneezing, wheezing, eyes-streaming-so-I-can-barely-see wreck, no matter what drugs I’m on.

Not this year. I still feel it, but it’s well under control and very mild. That’s how it ’s been on more normal days, too. With strong antihistamine drugs you don’t feel the imminent hayfever (or very much of anything else either: do not drive or operate machinery …). Whereas with the Grossan, a lot of the time in the first few weeks I felt like I was on the edge of a hayfever attack but just not quite having one. Strange feeling. In the last couple of weeks even that has gone away and I’ve been better than I’ve ever been in summer. I hope it isn’t just the weather.

Another strange feeling: I seem to perpetually have a slight sweet taste on my palate and the back of my throat. It’s not unpleasant and is, I suspect, probably something to do with a returning sense of smell. Which is another thing I’m not used to having in summer.

So I’m impressed with the machine. I’m impressed with Dr. Grossan himself too: he hangs out on the internet in the newsgroup; I posted a question there about using the Hydropulse for hayfever relief and he replied with a long message full of sound advice about how to control dust and pollen as part of an anti-hayfever regime, some of which I have been following in addition to using the machine.

More credit where credit’s due: I forgot to mention that I first heard about the Grossan Nasal Irrigator from Jerry Pournelle.

Maintaining the machine continues to provide the odd frisson. The handbook recommends sterilising it from time to time by running some diluted bleach through and then rinsing thoroughly. I did wonder when I did it for the first time whether I rinsed throughly enough: "What if I’m about to pump bleach up my nose? I wonder how much that would hurt". I wasn’t and it didn’t.

(*) This month’s life lesson: motivation levels are different when you’ve worked the last four weekends, and had your sleep patterns determined by sharing a bed with a sick baby for a week, than when you haven’t. Athough baby’s illness turned out to be not measles but something less serious that the German doctors call Dreitagesfieber. I haven’t been able to find an English name for it that I recognise.

road safety

1st August 2004 permanent link

Yesterday Maria went for some Shopping Therapy – it’s been a hard couple of weeks with the baby ill and me at work all the time. Jack and I went for a bike ride to the park, and then to check out a friend’s new yoga studio.

On the way back I learned why it is crucially important for a baby in a bicycle seat to have a helmet: not only if you crash, although it’s probably helpful for that too, but also to stop him banging his head on the back of the saddle after he has fallen asleep.

all text and images © 2003–2008

< july 2004 september 2004 >