alan little’s weblog archive for september 2004

no quick fix

28th September 2004 permanent link

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I had concerns that yoga “therapy” could lead to a short term, quick fix orientation that is foreign to real yoga practice, and was sceptical about whether such short term, quick fixes can actually work. Here, however is an article in Yoga Journal by Elise Browning Miller, who is a yoga teacher specialising in helping students with scoliosis (curvature of the spine). No danger of a quick fix mentality here:

The decision to do yoga to remediate a scoliosis entails a lifetime commitment to a process of self-discovery and growth. For many people, this kind of commitment is intimidating. It's tempting to turn instead to an orthopedic surgeon, who will "fix" a back by fusing it and get rid of the pain forever. Unfortunately, this operation results in a virtually immobile spine and frequently fails to alleviate the pain. I taught one teenage student with an extreme scoliosis who, weary of struggling with her yoga practice, gave up and had her back fused. To her dismay, her pain persisted, and she had even less mobility than before. When the rod in her back broke, she had it removed rather than replaced, and she returned to her yoga practice with a renewed and deeper commitment.

Choosing the path of self-discovery rather than surgery requires not only commitment but inner awareness. Guidance from a competent teacher is helpful, but awareness of our own bodies is crucial--no famous guru can fix our backs for us, any more than an orthopedic surgeon can. Only through our own constant awareness and loving attention can we transform our discomfort into a guide that helps us to get in touch with our bodies.

The goal of yoga practice should not be to straighten our backs; we must learn to accept them as they are, not deny them or judge them. Instead, we must work to understand our backs and to relate to them with sensitivity and awareness. Healing is much more than straightening a scoliosis, or curing a disease. It is learning to love and nurture ourselves and trust our inner knowing to guide us to a vibrant state of being.

related entries: Yoga

yoga with nancy

26th September 2004 permanent link

This week I’m doing a yoga course with Nancy Gilgoff. Nancy was one of Pattabhi Jois’s first western students, and has been studying and teaching yoga for over thirty years. I did a weekend course with her two years ago – writeup here. This one is five days, six hours a day.

I don’t expect to have much energy for writing anything.

related entries: Yoga

Currently listening to …

25th September 2004 permanent link

Holst’s Planets – and remembering that the headmaster at my primary school used to play Jupiter in school assembly, and I loved it. The religious studies teacher at my grammar school favoured Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi – another marvellous piece of music. Thank you, Mr. Oram and Mr. Wallace, for enriching my life in a way I didn’t appreciate at the time.

Teachers these days probably can’t do that sort of thing without being descended upon by record company vultures. Who then wonder why kids grow up less interested in buying recorded music.

related entries: Music

ujayi breathing

25th September 2004 permanent link

Michael Smith links to a couple of articles about how diaphragmatic breathing and inverted yoga postures (shoulderstand, headstand) stimulate the lymphatic system - “the respiratory diaphragm is the main pump of the lymphatic system” (Kelly McGonigal). Fascinating.

I realise here that I'm about to try to use words to explain something that needs pictures. I'll give it a go anyway. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that forms the floor of the thorax and the ceiling of the abdomen. Its centre is a tendon that rests on top of the abdominal organs and is indirectly tethered to the spine; its periphery is attached to the bottom of the ribcage. When the diaphragm tenses, two things happen: the centre pushes down on the abdominal organs, and the periphery pushes the ribs upwards and outwards. Ujayi breathing is a yogic breathing technique which is supposed to be used throughout an ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice, and is also done as a standalone breathing practice in other types of yoga. Ujayi breathing is done with the pelvic floor and lower abdominal wall lightly tensed (“bandhas”). This stabilises and slightly pressurises the abdominal organs, supporting the diaphragm firmly from below so that when it contracts, the centre can't move downwards (much). Instead (most of) the movement goes into expanding the ribcage.

David Coulter's marvellous book Anatomy of Hatha Yoga describes all this in more detail (with pictures) and points out the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing for lung capacity and blood gas levels, but I don't recall him mentioning the lymphatic system.

The technique recommended in McGonagal's article is different from ujayi breathing. She recommends lying on the back with a weight on the stomach, and then using diaphragm breathing to push the abdominal wall up and down. In this case the periphery of the diaphragm would appear to be held (relatively) still and the centre would move (more), actively pushing down on the abdominal organs to lift the stomach wall. Interesting, but I think I'll stick with my ujayi breathing during ashtanga practice. Should have much the same effect. (Controlled trials, anyone?)

Here we get to an area where I have some concerns about the idea of yoga therapy, or the borrowing of techniques from yoga to use as physical therapy for particular medical conditions. I firmly believe that many yoga techniques are capable of achieving the physical benefits that are attributed to them in old yoga texts. But I also think it probably takes years of diligent practice to develop the muscle control and body awareness needed to do them effectively and safely(*). Medical trials and systematised yoga therapy want results what are achievable quickly - months rather than years - and repeatable by large numbers of people who aren't motivated to devote large parts of their lives to yoga practice. About that I'm sceptical.

Take another example: use of yoga breathing techniques to assist in pregnancy and childbirth. I'm quite sure that women who already have advanced yoga practices can have enough diaphragm and pelvic floor control to help significantly in childbirth. I'd need to be convinced that somebody who hasn't already practiced these techniques for years can learn enough of them to be useful in six months. (Disclaimer: I am speculating. I have no first hand experience of pregnancy or childbirth).

(*) The other article Michael links to discusses how inversions - shoulderstands and headstands - quite possibly do have the benefits for the circulatory, lymphatic and endocrine systems that yoga teachers attribute to them. But it also cites examples of how they can cause problems in the neck and upper spine, even for experienced practitioners, if they're not taught safely and practiced carefully.

related entries: Yoga

photography quotes

24th September 2004 permanent link

film is a long way from being obsolete in applications where quality matters, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it gain the kind of appreciation that vintage analog gear has gotten in the sound-engineering world.
Glenn Reynolds

related entries: Photography

emusic classical update

24th September 2004 permanent link

Currently listening to … another emusic classical gem …

related entries: Music

enlightenment and doing the dishes

24th September 2004 permanent link

Linking to Steve Kingston’s God Save The Queen turns out to have been a good idea when, a week later, he comes up with this

Mystical union with the Godhead – absolutely, if you can receive it. But don’t let such blessings make you forget that it’s your turn to wash up.

related entries: Yoga

information sickness

23rd September 2004 permanent link

In the book Easy Travel to Other Planets, Ted Mooney describes a future world where people are so bombarded with meaningless information, abstract facts that don't really matter, that they become psychologically paralyzed, unable to focus on anything, and succumb to what Mooney calls ‘information sickness’. In some ways we are already there
Flemming Funch

indian taxi?

23rd September 2004 permanent link

Is India becoming a wealthy country even faster than anyone thinks?

My colleague Ajai sent me this link to pictures allegedly of something rather unusual being used as a taxi at Trivandrum airport. He either believes it could be genuine or is better at lying to me than I thought he was. I’ve flown to or from Trivandrum airport three times; I haven't seen it. Ajai comes from just up the road and has presumably used Trivandrum airport a lot more than three times; he says the background in the photos is genuine but he hasn't actually seen the thing itself either. If it’s a Photoshop job it's done well: Ajai says he and his friends have examined the photos and the reflections in the paintwork look right. He also says the pictures were published in a reputable national magazine (and reputable big media are hardly ever taken in by forgeries, as we all now know).

Ajai also says these things do definitely exist in India because it’s common knowledge that Sachin Tendulkar has one; I don't think they would survive ten minutes on Indian roads without being shaken to bits.

What am I talking about? Go and have a look. (The site is slow, though)

yoga & weblogging

22nd September 2004 permanent link

I’ve been meaning for a while to write something about whether & to what degree maintaining a weblog is compatible with pursuing a serious yoga practice. (“Meaning” meaning thinking about, but consigning to the Too Hard pile).

You become a writer by writing. It is a yoga.
Mysore novelist R.K. Narayan, quoted by Michael Smith

… which I think it perhaps can be in some forms, but I have my doubts about whether blogging is one of the more conducive forms.

Any time you’re thinking about how you’re going to describe something afterwards, you’re clearly not, at that moment, fully experiencing whatever it is that’s happening in the present moment. So you’re not practicing yoga. It’s a tendency you’re bound to have if you are somebody who has any natural inclination to write at all, but perhaps not one to be encouraged if you’re trying to be serious about your yoga practice. And weblogging, I think, does tend to encourage it. Which is one reason why I write very little here about physical details of my yoga practice, but that isn’t a complete answer by any means.

UPDATE: KJS disagrees.

That isn’t the complete essay by any means either, but it will have to do for now.

First, it is absolutely necessary to clear the intellectual portion, although we know that intellectuality is almost nothing; for it is the heart that is of most importance. It is through the heart that the Lord is seen, and not through the intellect. The intellect is only the street-clearner, cleansing the path for us, a secondary worker, the policeman; but the policeman is not a positive necessity for the workings of society. He is only to stop disturbances, to check wrong-doing, and that is all the work required of the intellect ...

Intellect is necessary for without it we fall into crude errors and make all sorts of mistakes. Intellect checks these; but beyond that, do not try to build anything upon it. It is an inactive, secondary help; the real help is feeling, love. Do you feel for others? If you do, you are growing in oneness. If you do not feel for others, you may be the most intellectual giant ever born, but you will be nothing; you are but dry intellect, and you will remain so.
Swami Vivekananda, quoted by Michael Blowhard

Rational thought is not what we are doing in this practice
senior ashtanga yoga teacher Dominic Corigliano, quoted on the yoga is youth weblog

Although on the other hand, writing is an art and

The purpose of art... is the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.
Glenn Gould, 1962

related entries: Yoga

emusic classical gems

20th September 2004 permanent link

Tim Bray has been looking at emusic. Kimbro Staken is still bitter about them taking his unlimited downloads away. I haven't changed my original opinion that it’s more an interesting bargain bin than a potential primary source of music; but the classical section, which is the part I've investigated most thoroughly, is a bargain bin with some real gems in it. Here are some recommended picks for anybody who might be interested:

A word about sound quality: emusic’s files are mp3s at about 192 kbps. I find them generally pretty good. I think I can tell that they’re not as good as CDs, I’m pretty sure they sound significantly better than 128 kbps AAC. But I haven’t done any proper abx testing to prove either of these assertions.

related entries: Music

great grandpa

20th September 2004 permanent link

I’ve written quite a bit about Pattabhi Jois the world famous great yoga teacher. Roy, who is (UPDATE: was) studying with his granddaughter in Bangalore at the moment, has pictures of Pattabhi Jois the great grandfather. Looks like he enjoys that as much as he enjoys teaching yoga.

related entries: Yoga

currently surfing …

17th September 2004 permanent link

Michael Brooke has been linking to me lately, and notes that his son Alexei and my Jack are of about the same age.

This is the sort of thing that should encourage a keenly competitive streak (from what I gather, they're at roughly similar stages vis-a-vis walking and talking - i.e. not yet but working hard at it)

Don’t even think about it Michael – Jack has been walking since he was ten months old.

Michael also comments about a friend’s baby son looking strikingly like his dad, how common this is (it certainly is among babies I know), and how this might well have an evolutionary purpose in terms of convincing dads about paternity. I read somewhere recently that somebody researched “babies look more like their dads than their mums” and found it not to be true across a large sample assessed by strangers, but I can’t remember where I read it and can’t find the link just now.

Michael, together with Tyler Cowen and Brian Micklethwait, has also convinced me about pianist Pierre Laurent Aimard. His recording of Ligeti’s Etudes & Musica Ricercata is sitting in my shopping basket at amazon.

Following links at random from Michael's site, I found myself at Steve Kingston's God Save The Queen: intelligent guy, good writing, interesting opinions. Well worth a look. I also note that Mr. Kingston (Dr. Kingston, I presume) studied history before turning his back on academia and venturing out into the world. So he must be great guy.

New York architect John Massengale used to live in Munich, and was moved to reminisce fondly about it by my piece on transportblog about Bavarian railways. He has lots of other informed commentary on architecture and urban design too. (Unfortunately he uses one of those stupid typepad templates that don't print properly. One of my daily habits is to print something interesting out to read in the park after lunch; it's very frustrating when you find something and then only the first page prints. UPDATE: it prints just fine in IE. Firefox problem. Bug raised.) Thanks to Michael Blowhard for the pointer to John Massengale.

Lastly, I've already linked many times to pieces by razib at Gene Expression. Gene Expression is a group blog and I don't find all the contributors worth reading. But razib is one of the sharpest commenters and thinkers around on the intersections of history, genetic science, linguistics and the stories about identity we like to tell ourselves. His latest is short but to the point.

(Today’s entry brought to you by …

Linking is easier than thinking
or ...
Conversation is better than pontification.

Time will tell)

oh wow

16th September 2004 permanent link

Your camera does not matter.
Your camera does not matter.
Your camera does not matter.

the powers of composition and visual discrimination that make good pictures don't depend on whether or not you are holding a box that says Leica, Voigtlander or Konica rather than a differently-shaped one that says Nikon, Canon or Contax.
Dante Stella

… or on whether your camera has one megapixel or twelve.

… so I can just wait and get one of these in about two years when they’re cheap. Except that its predecessor, the D1x, has not dropped in price significantly in three years, even used, because despite its adequate-but-obsolescent 5.4 megapixel sensor it’s just such a good camera in every other respect.

related entries: Photography

epson r800 – printing cds

15th September 2004 permanent link

Printing on CDs on the Epson R800 worked first time, to my great relief. I was worried that it might not, because I read some guy in a discussion forum somewhere (can’t find it again just now otherwise I would link to it) saying it didn’t work for him on his Mac. So I very carefully followed the instructions in the manual exactly to the letter, and success.

(In case the guy who had the problem is still googling for answers and finds this: I’m running OS X 10.3.4 and version 1.9a of the R800 driver.)

Print quality on CDs isn’t great – Epson warn you that it won’t be. The colours are dull and washed out. Even so, for archiving photos a CD labelled with one of the pictures that’s on it looks a lot better, and is a lot easier to find quickly, than one adorned with my spidery handwriting.

Now, where can I find high quality digital images of composers and musicians for burning music CDs?

related entries: Photography

inspiration, motivation

14th September 2004 permanent link

Ways to get inspiration and motivation for photography.

After Jack was born I had a spell of taking very few photos. It was partly because with a baby in the house, of course I had less free time and spare energy than before. It was more because I took a lot of pictures of Jack just after he was born, and dealing with all the film, scanning it, trying to get decent prints, was so laborious and frustrating I got discouraged.

Kyle Cassidy says about his beloved Leica:

like a lot of photography, it's psychological. It goes something like this "Hey, I have a Leica. I must be a good photographer. (snap snap snap)" Doesn't always work but sometimes it's worth a try. If you're a decent photographer and having a Leica makes you want to take more pictures, then it's a good thing.

… which was also my real reason for getting my new Nikon D70 and Epson R800: if I can spend more time taking pictures, and less time faffing about with scanners and photoshop, I’ll be a happier and more motivated photographer. It seems to be working. In the two months I’ve had the D70 I’ve taken a thousand pictures. Practice, practice, practice.

Also, look at great photographs. Today I discovered Paul Caponigro’s marvellous work; and, in a brief and precious baby-free half hour in a bookshop on the way home from work, looked at a couple of books by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andreas Gursky that literally had me gasping in wonder as I turned the pages.

I try not to overanalyse that sort of reaction: I prefer to just experience. Looking at pictures isn’t left brain time for me, even though I might, theoretically, I suppose, be able to improve my own pictures if I could see what it is that these guys are doing. I can sort of see what’s going on with Gursky: something about making the three dimensional into geometric patterns on a flat plane, and something special about his colours. But HCB: the prints in the book aren’t even particularly good, but some of his compositions are just magic in some way that’s completely beyond my left brain’s ability to comprehend. My right brain likes them though. Both Gursky and HCB have the great photographer ability that most impresses me: the ability to produce fascinating images out of completely mundane things I wouldn’t even look twice at.

related entries: Photography

currently listening to …

14th September 2004 permanent link

… something that shows the real extent of my classical music ignorance. I have no formal musical education. I was going to Motörhead gigs and Rock Night at the Students’ Union while my brother and sister were playing in high class youth orchestras (*). I’ve only been interested in listening to classical music for a few years – in which time I have learned a fair amount about some performers and composers that I’ve discovered I like, but the gaps in my knowledge are huge.

Just how huge is revealed by this: Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto played by Sviatoslav Richter, with Karel Ancerl conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. This must be a contender for one of the Top Ten Most Famous Openings in all classical music, but I downloaded it from emusic having no clue that it was that extremely famous thing that I must have heard the start of many times, just because it was Richter playing. It’s a fantastic performance.

Even stronger contenders for Top Ten Most Famous Openings in all classical music: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I first knew what this was last year when I bought a cheap CD of Wilhelm Kempff playing it, which I thought was pretty damn good until I heard even better versions by Artur Schnabel and Emil Gilels. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, the organ music cliché, but I didn’t know what it was called or who it was by until I heard a (dreadful) orchestral arrangement that I also downloaded from emusic (recomendations for good performances of the organ version welcomed).

(The dreadful Bach arrangement, however, does come with a pretty good orchestral version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition)

I do know Beethoven’s fifth symphony, thanks.

This was going to be part of a big list of emusic classical recommendations, but now falls under the “pull out the nearly-finished bits and post them anyway” rule.

(*) although this dichotomy was not as sharp as I make it sound. Several members of the same orchestras, including the leader (= concertmaster, for American readers) of the one my brother was in, were more diligent Rock Night attenders than I ever was.

related entries: Music

music, meditation and heaven

14th September 2004 permanent link

Yesterday I was re-reading my essay from a few months ago about listening to music as a form of meditation, because I noticed that aworks had linked to it.

Then today I read this:

'The ultimate power of music,' continues Bittleston, 'is that it temporarily demands you to exist in the present. There are no problems in the present! The performing arts are unlike other art forms, which are tied up with anything but the present. In music you can literally leave your problems behind, because they're not there. That would be a very Zen Buddhist way of looking at what music is. In Christianity it was once argued that music transports one through the gates of heaven. But what they were really saying is the same thing - it transports one not through the gates of heaven, but slap-bang into the place where you actually are, which is the now. That process dissolves all problems, at least for a time. I think this might be defined as heaven in some circles.'

Richard Bittleston, quoted by Jessica Duchen in BBC Music Magazine, quoted by Brian Micklethwait.

related entries: Music Yoga

all of mp3

13th September 2004 permanent link

Thanks to Ian Bicking, I have been looking at, a Russian music download service. Pricing is very cheap: a (US) cent a megabyte, so what you actually pay depends on what level of compression you're willing to live with (more on this later). There are even supposed to be some things available in uncompressed form at two cents a megabyte, although I haven’t found any yet. Selection seems a lot better for my purposes than at Apple’s store – I actually find a lot of the things I’m looking for, including nearly all the things Apple’s UK store didn’t have when it opened.

User interface: the website is ok. Search works reasonably; browsing is better than emusic because it's just alphabetical by performer, not arbitrarily chopped up into somebody’s silly definition of “genres”. The registration and buying process is painless. The online help is good, and in good English. Only downloading is a pain in the arse for Mac users: they have a batch downloader but, unlike emusic’s, it’s Windows-only. Mac users (probably few and far between in Russia) have to click on their files one by one to download them.

Unlike on emusic, there’s no facility to mark interesting items to maybe download later. The prices are so cheap, there’s hardly any reason not to download anything that looks even vaguely interesting (this may not be true for Russian customers) – except that for me as a Mac user, downloading masses of stuff would be a pain.

The non-classical selection is the best I’ve yet seen on any online music store in terms of what I’ve looked for actually being there. The classical selection is pathetic, although there are a few gems to be found: Mozart violin sonatas by Oleg Kagan and Sviatoslav Richter, Brahms clarinet quintet by Karl Leister, Prokofiev piano concerto no.5 and sonata no.8 by Sviatoslav Richter. All from western labels. I was hoping for mysterious but brilliant unreleased-in-the-west soviet archive recordings, but no.

Here’s where it gets fun. Most commercial music download sites offer only one fixed encoding and (low) bitrate. On AllofMP3 you can choose what format and bitrate you want depending on how much bandwidth and space you have, and how much you want to pay. They have more encodings available than I’ve ever heard of. Their “masters” are mostly 384 kbps mp3s, so anything else you order is re-encoded from these. In theory this is not good as involves two lots of lossy compression. I’ve tried 320 kbps AAC and “extreme” (about 290 kbps variable bit rate) mp3, and both sound fine to me. They are also supposed to have some things available uncompressed and downloadable in lossless format but I haven’t found any yet. There’s no DRM so once you’ve got your files you can do what you want with them.

I think this is great. You can get much better sound quality than is available from western download sites. Marketing types would probably think it’s way too complicated, scary and unpredictable for the average bod, and they’re probably right. See Andrew Odlyzko’s famous paper on telecommunications pricing and how people prefer fixed and predictable pricing to variable pricing, even if the variable offering is cheaper and/or technically superior. This may be less true in Russia, where computer use and internet access are less pervasive and the average user is probably more technically savvy.

What’s not to like? They have music I actually want. I can get it in decent sound quality with no DRM, instead of paying near-CD prices for DRM’d 128 kbps. It’s cheap. And it’s, er, completely legal in Russia. Which is fine – I can just, er, stock up the next time I go to visit the in-laws.

If something like this were available in the west – good sound quality, no use restrictions, music I actually want – I would use it if the prices were anything like reasonable. “Reasonable” meaning: well below what Apple charge, but it wouldn’t have to be as low as a cent a megabyte.

Other write-ups at museekster (ridiculously tiny illegible font, they should sack their designer) and gizmodo.

UPDATE AND APOLOGY: museekster is only in a ridiculously tiny illegible font in Safari, it is just fine in all other major browsers. I apologise unreservedly to Hans Handgraaf, museekster’s designer, who sent me a very polite and friendly email and is clearly a nicer guy than I was being when I wrote that.

related entries: Music

film still better?

13th September 2004 permanent link

Brigitte Little (no relation) is also a fan of the great French photographer Raymond Depardon, and wrote to ask my opinion of digital photography. A reply to the email turned into a long unfinished essay (one day I shall just publish everything in my drafts folder and be damned). One answer to an out of control drafts folder is to pull out the bits that are reasonably self contained and finished, such as this on some advantages that film (for the time being) still has over digital photography.

What can you do with chemical photography that you can’t (yet) with digital?

Absolute resolution. Twenty-plus megapixel cameras costing tens of thousands of dollars are nowhere near the resolution of a piece of 4"x5" film in a view camera that you can buy for $1000 or less. (Although to actually do anything with your piece of 4"x5" film, at some stage you're likely to need to run it through a drum scanner also costing tens of thousands of dollars)

ruined temples on Matunga Hill, Hampi

Seventy megapixels? Maybe not. This landscape picture was scanned at 3000 dpi from a 6x9 cm negative (shot on a $600 Fuji GW690) and is roughly 7,000 x 10,000 pixels. But if you view the full size version at 100% you can clearly see film grain, so say the effective resolution is actually about a half to a third of the number of pixels. But for about the same amount of money, if you're willing to put up with more hassle you can use a piece of film twice as big in a view camera.

Extreme low light photography. Available light photography in dark yoga studios is one of my favourite photographic games. Digital is way better than colour film in the 800 to 3200 iso range, but I don't know if it can do anything like what you can do with fast black & white film when you’re squeezing out every last drop of light at ISO 6400.

yoga school, Mysore

Contrast range: the amount of difference in light intensity you can get in a picture without having either the highlights go to featureless white, or the shadows featureless black. Digital can deal with a similar contrast range to colour slide film. It has nowhere near the range of colour negative film or, especially, black & white film. With digital you probably couldn’t do that wonderful glaring-desert-heat-at-noon thing Depardon does so well.

temple, Idagunji
temple, Mysore

These pictures of temple interiors in India make no claim to be the world’s greatest photos, or anything like pictures Raymond could have taken in the same places, but they do show black & white film’s ability to show detail both in the shadows inside and the sunlight outside. You couldn’t get away with this with digital.

All these things: absolute resolution, low light sensitivity, contrast range – are technical problems that will be solved. Fuji’s latest could be a major step towards dealing with the contrast range issue.

related entries: Photography

great pictures

13th September 2004 permanent link

Great aerial photos of New York in this article on about New York Times staff photographer Vincent Laforet.

related entries: Photography

indian genes again

12th September 2004 permanent link

Razib talks about yet another new paper on Indian genetic origins, in which the pendulum swings back towards very little sign of large scale immigration in the last ten thousand years in mitochondrial DNA, i.e. in the female line. I think I’m going to stop writing about this and just link to Razib.

related entries: Yoga

currently listening to ...

11th September 2004 permanent link

Sometimes I worry about the way this blog has no apparent focus and jumps about randomly from subject to subject. But apparently it’s ok, because:

those who devote all their time to a single pursuit achieve less than those who are interested in contiguous matters, for the aesthetic insight of the latter acquires an extra dimension enabling them to see more, in greater volume and with greater truth.

Composer Alfred Schnittke writing about the legendary pianist, and apparently also not-half-bad painter, Sviatoslav Richter.

… whose astounding 1958 live performance of the original piano version of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition I’ve been listening to lately. I was in a bidding war for it on ebay until the price went over €12, at which point I thought wait, better check amazon. Where it was €10. Then I went to my local discount CD shop and bought it for €5.

The performance is unbelievable. It’s a poor recording though – lots of tape hiss and audience noise in the quiet bits. And they appear to have left off the bit at the end where the piano falls apart or explodes, which is clearly inevitably going to happen after the hammering Richter gives it in the finale. Beethoven, whose pianos led hard lives, would have been impressed.

Quote courtesy of

UPDATE: Tim Bray has realised that

while I was originally impressed by Apple’s iTunes Music Store, it’s become obvious that buying old-fashioned CDs from old-fashioned music stores is a better deal. The sound quality is higher, and what I get is just a bunch of digital files that are mine and I can store on any computer I want to and play on any device I want to and nobody’s getting in the way.

I was never impressed by Apple’s iTunes Music Store. Apple would have wanted to charge me a lot more than €5 for an inferior version of this recording. In the highly unlikely event that they had it for sale at all.

related entries: Music

epson r800 notes

10th September 2004 permanent link

These are really just working notes for my own purposes. I used to have some separate blog pages for that purpose, and might do that again one day. Meanwhile, here they are in case anybody else might find them useful too.

I just bought an Epson R800 photo printer. I already have Epson’s previous flagship photo printer, the Stylus Photo 2100, which does A3+ whereas the R800 is only A4. So why switch? I actually found I hardly ever made big prints. The 2100 is capable of producing great results but it’s been a pain in the arse to use. Epson’s Mac drivers two years ago when I got the 2100 were useless, so I ended up buying expensive ImagePrint software to try to actually get useful results out of the thing. Which worked until I upgraded to OS X 10.3, at which point the makers wanted more money from me to upgrade. I could, at that point, have tried the latest Epson driver so see if they’ve improved in two years – but then the R800 came out costing less than the 2100 sells for used on ebay, and with one killer feature that the 2100 doesn’t have. The 2100’s achilles heel was that it printed superbly on matte and semigloss paper, but not on glossy paper that actually looks and handles like chemical photo prints. So, no big prints with the R800 but great small prints that we can send to grandmothers, and I should be able to sell the 2100 for at least as much as I paid for its replacement.

That was the plan. Impressions of the reality so far: Epson’s Mac support is still slightly second rate. The driver installation requires a reboot – how pathetic is that? This is a real operating system, we don’t shut down three times a day. And Firewire doesn’t appear to be supported. But installed on USB, and having rebooted, it works first time. There seem to be some peculiarities printing borderless: a 6"x4" picture on 6"x4" paper either shows slight margins in the Photoshop print preview that aren’t on the actual print, or if you select “Scale to fit media” so that no margins show in the preview in Photoshop, then you lose quite a lot of the edges of the picture. But with a bit more trial and error I’m sure I’ll be able to work out what’s going on here. Niggles apart: it’s fast, and prints using Epson’s standard paper profiles look great with very accurate colour. Looks like being much easier to live with than the 2100 ever was.

Useful R800 links:

related entries: Photography

learning to speak

9th September 2004 permanent link

Seeing a child grow and learn is fascinating. Jack isn’t saying any words yet. (Well, sort of. He has his own words for things. “Bow” is dog – seeing bows is very exciting) . But his noises have quite suddenly become more complex over the last few days. I’m not holding my breath for him to talk, though, and I’ll try not to worry if he doesn’t do it until relatively late. I’ve read that that can happen with children in multilingual environments. I also heard it from our friends in Italy, a Russian-Italian couple whose son apparently didn’t start speaking until he was two, but then all at once in complete sentences and in both languages.

I also read that growing up with two languages is generally no problem for kids but more than two can be confusing. We shall see. Maria and I speak our mother tongues with Jack: better for him to hear German spoken correctly by native speakers than not-quite-grammatical German with a strong English accent, or even perfectly fluent German with a slight but detectable Russian accent (*). But we used to mostly speak German with one another, until we recently switched to English because Maria went back to work (part time) in an English speaking office and felt she needed to practice. So Jack hears three languages spoken on a daily basis. Or four - the family he goes to for daycare when Maria is at work is Turkish.

At any rate we’re going to be able to see plenty of examples of kids growing up multilingual. I remember reading somewhere that the total percentage of people in the world living outside their country of origin is some astonishingly low figure – around 2% iirc, certainly below 5%. Not in Munich, where the population is something like 25 to 30% foreigners. In the families we know with kids, ones where both parents are of the same nationality are a minority.

On a slightly related subject: learn all the languages you can as a child, because it’s much harder later on. Brian Tiemann commented recently that “If you were, say, to move to another country where you didn't speak the prevailing language, and you didn't bother to LEARN the prevailing language, THEN you would suck”. I’m not sure if Brian had English speakers living abroad in mind, or immigrants to the States, or both. I agree in any case. I’ve also noticed that, contrary to some people’s stereotypes and generalising grossly, the Americans I know who live in Germany tend to make more effort and speak better German than the British and Irish. I guess this might be because it’s a major decision for Americans to come over here so the ones who do it are motivated; whereas if you’re British or Irish you can come over for a few months almost on a whim. As I did. Some then like it and decide to stay, as I did five years ago. Even then a lot still don’t bother to learn German. There are some reasons (pathetic excuses) for this. As an English speaker you can get away with being lazy, because the majority of educated people in Europe do speak decent English. I can also say from experience that it’s much harder to learn a foreign language as an adult than as a child; even living here, I was much slower picking up some aspects of German at the age of fortyish than I was at in school at the age of fifteen. I made a big effort to learn German anyway: one reason for coming was that I always wanted to learn a foreign language properly, plus I wanted to be able to chat up German women. (The second part of the plan didn’t quite work in the long run, although if you shuffle it around slightly to “chat up women in German” then it did.) But a lot are too lazy to even try. And that, as Brian says, sucks.

(*) Accents sound the same across languages. A Russian accent in German sounds like a Russian accent in English. Even in writing. I read a couple of the Harry Potter books in German; in one of them there’s a French character, and the way they render her accent in written German is exactly the same as you would do it in written English.

UPDATE: Einstein, I just read in Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, didn’t speak until he was three.

composers and performers

8th September 2004 permanent link

Trawling through my drafts folder for nearly-finished pieces I can tidy up and post, I find this off-the-top-of-my-head list of musicians who are now mainly known as performers, but were also composers:

Wilhelm Furtwängler (conductor)
Zoltán Székely (violinist, leader of the Hungarian String Quartet)
Robert Mann (violinist, leader of the Juilliard String Quartet)
(Famous Czech violinist Josef Suk not, however, the same person as his grandfather, semi-famous Czech composer Josef Suk as I originally thought)

Composers who were famous piano virtuosi in their day: Bartok, Rachmaninov, Liszt, Beethoven, Mozart. Plus Haydn & Bach? Were any of these noted peformers of anybody’s work other than their own? Bartok was, don’t know about the others. Shostakovich played piano too, including some recordings of his own works, none of which I have heard. I don’t know if he was regarded particularly good – but people like Rostropovich and the Borodin Quartet were willing to record with him, so he must have been at least minimally competent.

Other composers who were also noted performers in their day:

Benjamin Britten (piano, conductor)
Berlioz (conductor)

People who are about equally famous as performers and composers:

Leonard Bernstein
Pierre Boulez

People noted as both performers and composers in the current generation:


The idea that composing and performing music should be separate activities done by different people (with the corollary that most of the people doing the composing should be dead, preferably having died a century or more ago) a recent and unhealthy development? See also my previous comments on how Zoltán Székely and others of his generation were at the forefront of both cutting edge contemporary music and older music – another healthy thing that seems to have died out in the last generation or so.

related entries: Music

bob the railway

5th September 2004 permanent link

I have a piece about BOB, the Bayerische Oberland Bahn or “Bavarian Highland Railway”, on Transportblog. Why?

Because a few weeks ago on my way to work I saw a headline about German government plans to privatise Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway company. That looked like the sort of thing Transportblog would be interested in so I dropped Patrick Crozier a mail. I haven’t seen any more about the privatisation, but the email correspondence resulted in Patrick asking if I would write something about my experiences as a Bavarian rail user. So I did.

i saw the news today oh boy

4th September 2004 permanent link

I bought a newspaper today, which is something I rarely do these days. (I bought English papers a couple of times when I was in Italy last month, because I was on holiday and wanted to relax with some Olympic sports news). Why?

It certainly wasn’t because I thought the Münchener Tageszeitung was going to tell me anything about Beslan that I couldn’t find on the web. (Maria nevertheless read their special report avidly, and has been glued to TV news for the last two days even though she could get the same reportage, and better commentary and analysis, on the internet). No, it was because they had a report on Munich population trends, with a breakdown of population growth by neighbourhoods. Now that is something that will get me as a Munich resident to buy a paper, because I’m not going to find it in the blogosphere.

You can now though: the population of Munich has increased by 50,000 in the last five years, to almost exactly one and a quarter million. The increase is almost entirely by immigration: the net excess of births over deaths was barely a thousand. Newcomers about half German and half foreigners. Growth mostly in areas of new construction on the outskirts. Newcomers overwhelmingly single, no net increase in the number of married inhabitants (families with kids move out to places where they can afford decent-sized houses). If you want more details, check out the Münchener Tageszeitung website. Assuming they have one – I have no idea.

first there is a mountain

2nd September 2004 permanent link

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Kadetsky’s First There Is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance: an account/expose of her time studying a BKS Iyengar’s yoga shala in Pune, mixed with some investigation/speculation about the origins of modern yoga .

It’s the buzz yoga book of this year. I had it on my shopping list anyway, then I noticed that a guy I met at a yoga workshop had it, and commented on it, and he said he'd just finished it and would I like to borrow it? In his opinion it was worth reading but not something essential to have on one’s yoga bookshelf. I said yes I would like to borrow it, and I pretty much agree. If I had spent money on it I certainly wouldn’t have regretted it, and might want to look at it again one day, but I don’t feel a burning urge to rush out and buy a copy right now. I intended to write a longer review but I don’t really feel like I have the time or the motivation, and it’s about time I returned my borrowed copy. (Yes, I actually return borrowed books).

So, short version: not an absolute must-read, but well worthwhile if a copy happens to fall into your lap. Makes the atmosphere at the Pune shala sound pretty poisonous, but I’m sure somebody of a suitably sceptical turn of mind could write something similar about Pattabhi Jois’s school in Mysore if they put their mind to it. Most interesting bit from my ashtangi perspective: at the end of the book when she goes back to Iyengar after studying with an ashtanga teacher elsewhere, and he launches into a big tirade against ashtanga generally on the theme of how can, in your asana practice, use your body as a tool for meditation if you keep jumping around and moving it all the time? Obviously I think you can, otherwise I wouldn’t still be practicing ashtanga yoga. Nevertheless it’s worth hearing the opinion of one of the greatest contemporary yogis on the yoga style that he learned in his youth but later abandoned.

Previous posting with lots of links relating to the book here; discussion of the book that the author has contributed to here. And thanks Thore for the loan – the book will be on its way back to you soon.

related entries: Yoga

yoga blogs

2nd September 2004 permanent link

A roundup of some yoga blogs(*) I’ve been reading lately:

flying monkey, recently linked to here

prana journalMichael Smith, whom I have linked to several times but not in the last few weeks, so he has dropped from my sidebar links. See below. is Julie Kremer’s yoga weblog aggregator / hosting project (illustrated with my photos, but doesn’t seem to pick up my yoga-related updates all that frequently)

UPDATE: Julie writes to say she tries to check my yoga feed regularly but it comes up empty. I need to look into this. It’s more likely my fault than hers – my weblog software is homegrown and gets written in one or two hour spurts in the evening after the baby has gone to bed when I'm tired.

days in my lives – I already have a permanent link to John under “friends & family” on my yoga links page even though I’ve never actually met him face to face. I’ve “known” him for years as one of the more prominent level-headed nice guys in the online ashtanga yoga scene. His blog updates come infrequently but in large chunks.

99 to 1 – Roy in Bangalore, studying with Pattabhi Jois’s grandaughter Sharmilla. An blog. Interesting writing and she sounds good – worth noting if an IT project ever lands me in Bangalore with not enough time to visit Mysore.

yoga is youth – doesn’t appear to be being updated, but was an interesting group blog by some yoga students in Mysore earlier this year.

2 blowhards – like me, Michael Blowhard doesn’t write exclusively – not very much at all, in fact – about his yoga practice and vedanta studies. But well worth a read as one of the more interesting arts’n’culture blogs with the added bonus of occasional yoga references.

A note on my linking policy: one of the ideas I wanted to try out when I was writing my weblogging software was, instead of having a quasi-permanent edited-by-hand “blogroll” in my sidebar links, to generate the links sidebar automatically from the things I’ve linked to in my current postings. So if something appears in my sidebar links and then disappears a month later, it doesn’t necessarily mean I no longer think it’s worth reading – it’s just because I don’t happen to have linked to it in a blog entry for a month. I might rethink this though. I still like the idea of my sidebar links automatically reflecting what I’m currently reading/writing/thinking about; but I’m also developing more appreciation of the value people attach to mutual linking as an article of inter-blogger courtesy.

Automatically pruning links after 30 days also means my sidebar gets a bit thin if I go on holiday and don’t post anything for two weeks. So, changes to my sidebar linking policy quite possibly coming soon: possibly more permanent links, and/or retain automatic links longer, and/or have the main page contain the last thirty days’ entries or the last 20 entries whichever is the greater.

I also still have an old page of yoga links that I maintain, sporadically.

(*) For a long time I resisted the term “blog” as being a horribly ugly and stupid-sounding word, preferring “weblog”. I am gradually giving in to inevitability.

related entries: Yoga

yoga friends

1st September 2004 permanent link

Interesting news from a couple of yoga friends. My Mysore roommate Christina is teaching in Oklahoma and I’m hearing good things about her from various sources whose opinions I respect. The photo on her personal page is one of mine, taken at a Christmas party in Mysore in 2001. She hated it when she first saw it. Presumably she doesn’t any more.


Christina & I keep in touch occasionally by mail; in her latest she informs me that another of our Mysore friends, Kate Hewett, is now teaching the ashtanga classes at triyoga in London.

Another of my Mysore roomates, and an old friend from the very beginning of my yoga studies in Manchester, is Janice Roscoe. She’s now living and teaching yoga in Ottawa, Canada with her brand new husband Stephen, and says one of her students recognised her from her photo in my Indian diary. I owe her an email too.

Go girls.

related entries: Yoga

under-2s world record?

1st September 2004 permanent link

Being a dad is interesting. Some days my son seems to have no appetite and I worry about whether he’s eating enough (although he never seems to lack energy. Never) Other days I wonder how there could possibly be room in a small boy for a jar of spaghetti bolognese, half a pint of fruit juice and three slices of watermelon; or, on a different occasion, if seven tomatoes might possibly be an under-twos world record.


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