Sunday, 16 November 2014


I knew I wanted one, because I'd heard them in action. Two of them chained from a laptop are plenty to fill a good-sized room and have a perfectly good pop-up milonga with twenty or thirty people or so. Which is a nice thing to think, even if you don't do it. But they come in several charming colours, and I put it off and put it off partly because they are rather expensive, but mainly because (they being so expensive) I wanted them to be perfect and I couldn't decide which colour to get.

Then they brought out these purple ones with the yellow ends, and totally made the sale.

I played with them for a while after buying them, enjoying both the sound and the purple-and-yellowness. They're not cheap. They're a bit lurid. As I smiled at them, one of those flashes of self-knowledge informed me that these have now become the thinking woman's Comme Il Faut.

I've taken one on trips a few times, and used one this Spring (turned down very quiet) for dancing outside Pisa airport. And it was enough. I thought I wouldn't get the use out of them that I should for the price, since dancing in airports doesn't happen as often as it ought, but they're so small and so good that I use them all the time. I have one constantly on the dinner table for listening to lectures and radio programmes from my tablet, and the other in the bedroom. The only annoying thing is the bright battery-status light, which I cover with blu-tack if I am playing a lullaby.

But I am just as much a sucker for a clever, expensive consumer product as anyone, so just recently I bought the gold subwoofer as well. And it sounds GREAT. Of course, it enhances any music where the bass is important - and if you were teaching a muscality class, you'd probably find it very useful. But I also like the way it enhances speaking voices, especially male.

Now it lives on the dinner table too. In the picture I'm listening to a conversation about how the Hubble Space Telescope is steered. As for playing tango music from my computer, I like all sorts of things that I didn't much enjoy listening to at home before.

Anyway, here are Richard's in the form of action most likely to interest my readers - DJing from an iPad at a party. He didn't bring a subwoofer, as it's not needed in such a small room. I really WANT the pokketmixer you can see at the front (which is unpowered and lets you plug in headphones and switch channels to prelisten) but I have absolutely no sensible reason to buy one and they're, like, 90 EUR. So I'm not going to do that. Really. Not yet, anyway. It's so cute and clever, though. Maybe I could get one for Christmas.

The Minirigs are made in England - in Bristol, I think, or at least they are designed and tested there. They all come with their own padded cases and cables, and they sell a special backpack for carrying the whole setup and turning yourself into a walking sound system, but I don't like the design for this situation - I'm visualising an adapted hard-shelled briefcase that would open, maybe slide and click, and sort of fold itself inside-out, and be ready to go. It would need pockets for up to four minirigs, the subwoofer, the pokketmixer, the cables, some headphones, the ipad perhaps - and some reading glasses, in case you forget.

You can chain together as many as you want, which is very efficient if you are having a party and several of your friends own some. Obviously, though, you pay for the portability and style, so if you want a proper sound system for a big room, two big speakers of equivalent quality are going to be much cheaper than six little ones.

No they have not given me anything, but it would be ACE if they did.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Oh, I have so much writing to do

Experience and tips on learning to follow (written with a friend in mind).
Interesting experiences of taking my leading more seriously - methods and results.
A bunch of videos that I have found helpful or inspiring for leading (given very limited time and patchy motivation), and what is interesting about them.
Comments on a fascinating article elsewhere (hope I can still find it) about the history of ballroom dancing in England, and especially its decline as a social activity; parallels and contrasts.
An market-based analysis of why something I consider bloody rude, is so very annoying.
The relationships between social dancing, teaching, followers, leaders, quality, supply, and demand.
Possibly some uninteresting rants about software and corporate workplace silliness.
Miscellaneous things I've learned this year.

And I sit down too much already!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

International Transfers for tango travellers

Ok, this is a matter of so much trouble to Brits who travel for tango purposes that it's become a perfectly genuinely Frequently Asked Question. As I've been asked it multiple times, here's the answer for people struggling to make European transfers in Euros directly from a UK bank. I've done it again today and remembered the gotchas.

You ONLY need the following information, nothing else:

  1. IBAN, the very loooong number which starts with a country code like FR or DE. If your bank's form does not seem to understand this number when you paste it in, remove the spaces. I have no idea why the forms are too stupid to do this automatically, but for some reason they often are, and it baffles people.
  2. BIC, the Bank Identification Code, a shorter string of letters.
  3. Name of the beneficiary (person or company you are sending the money to).
That's it. You do NOT need to fill any address information, it's completely unnecessary, so leave those boxes blank if the form allows it, or repeat whatever address you have if your bank's form is so poorly designed that it doesn't. The chances are that any extra information will be ignored, and the bank's helpdesk will probably confirm this, as mine did.

There may be more than one option for how the costs are paid which can vary from bank to bank. Mine only actually provides one option, which has a totally misleading name ("shared") but nevertheless results in the correct number of Euros reaching their destination. Start by selecting whatever option lets you specify the exact amount of the bill you are trying to pay.

Alternatively, try Transferwise, which I haven't yet used myself (only because my bank's system is unusually cheap and I am used to it), but I know lots of people who've used it very successfully. It is almost certain to be cheaper and better designed than your bank's system. The only gotcha is that people fairly often misunderstand the form in such a way that they make a transfer the wrong way round, FROM the destination currency TO the source currency. This results in exchanging the money and paying all of the costs twice over, and under-paying the actual bill by as much as a tenner, so it's no longer cheaper than using the bank. Plus it's embarrassing. So try not to do this.

I hope that helps someone, because apparently it's been driving my friends round the bend. I do it multiple times a year, and it's the sort of thing you would just never have had to do even once if you weren't travelling in Europe in order to dance tango. Because all other sorts of business take credit cards, and in Argentina you just turn up with a bra full of USD.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Dance is not necessarily sport, either

Jonathan Agnew said something on the radio – during a Test Match at the end of June – about hacking, which means riding around on horses, but not competitively.

He was talking about people who ride horses in their daily life, but are not "recognised" as “participating in a sport”, and he asked them to tweet pictures of what they were doing with a hashtag, because it would (self-evidently?) be a good thing if they were.

I think Aggers is wrong to assume that they would want this. It sounds to me exactly analogous to the case of social dancing. There is nothing wrong with doing dance as a sport, and social dance has pretty similar mental, physical and social benefits to social sport. The tango-salon competitions are a whole other discussion, and a very interesting one (also sometimes farcical). Sport-dance can be a lot of fun. But conceiving ALL dance as sport would be harmful and there is no reason to assume that anyone would or should want that.

Just because some people define sport as prestigious doesn't mean everyone has to. The concept of sport isn't entitled to take over the whole world of healthy physical activity.

I could pretty much replace the word "Art" with "Sport" in this post and it would end up with virtually the same meaning. In fact, let's try some of that:

There's nothing wrong with artistic sporting dance. Lots of dance is certainly art sport. But it is wrong to talk as though dance is necessarily performance, and that non-artistic, non-performance dance is some sort of inferior 'just-for-fun' offshoot, defined as low-quality, because high-quality dance would be art win something. This belief does real harm to people who would enjoy non-art non-sport dance and be good at it, and real harm to dance communities. ...
... There should be more people dancing, more commonly, than there are, without being obliged to feel all artistic sporting about it. And without feeling that if they ever get good, they'll automatically be artists sportsmen and expected to teach or perform compete. Those are all totally different vocations and have no necessary connection with each other, or with just dancing. They're not needed to validate the quality of anyone's dance. (And they don't, incidentally).
Competition dance is necessarily standardised, because without some standardisation, fair judging is very difficult and seen-to-be-fair judging even more so. You need rules and criteria; and there’s a reason why some (or, in my opinion, most) great social dancers consider “Campeonato” style tango stupefyingly boring and artificial, despite the competition itself being great fun as a sporting event. But back to the previous post:
Being an excellent social (or indeed solo, or religious, or football-terrace) dancer is a valid and possible goal, and it's always nice to have more of them.
Why would social dancers want to be “recognised as participating in sport”? That would be poisonous – just as poisonous as being “recognised as artists”.

I'm not saying it's not tempting. If you put a lot of work into doing something well, the siren song of public or peer recognition will call to you, one way or another. But we should think properly about how to fulfil that legitimate desire in a way appropriate to the context - not blindly adopt the artistic or sporting model. And even if we occasionally organise a competition of a sporting nature, which could be huge fun, that doesn't mean we should let it take over or influence what we are doing otherwise, more than it deserves to.

It would be much better if social dance were more widely recognised as what it really is - play. And adult humans don’t need a prefabricated validating excuse – “sport” or “art” – for playing together. Or even with a horse.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Monica Paz - tomorrow

London tango peeps who appreciated my long piece "Argentine Tango for TV Viewers" might like to know that both Monica Paz and Antonio Martinez, who appear in one of the videos I chose, are going to be at Negracha, London tomorrow - not together, Monica is going to teach the class this week and do a demo with Marek I believe, [Sorry - the demo is at Corrientes tonight - not at Negracha yesterday! my mistake, I misunderstood what was said to me. But yes it's with Marek] and Antonio is DJing at Corrientes on Saturday, and Monica will teach there too.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Work in progress

This was going to be a present for a baby, but I was making it and I found myself fighting it. It has rather spooky, foreboding spirit. I wouldn't say an evil spirit, but not a protective spirit. I couldn't give it to a baby - I think it wants to be for someone else.

So I had to stop and make something else for the baby. I'll show you that later. (Luckily I found an idea in a yarn shop in Lillehammer, Norway).

There's some rather subtle non-symmetrical shaping going on here and it's not absolutely perfect, but I'm quite pleased with it. With sock wool it does feel right to use more detail. This is the back:

And this is the front:

It's going to need legs, and a tail. Now that I'm not fighting it any more I think I know how they need to be.

In my open-plan office

… two of my colleagues have been arguing quietly about technical subjects all day.

They are both very bright people, very nice people. At least one of them is very well informed about the subject, and the other one has some intelligent questions. But both are profoundly incapable, in totally different ways, of giving a clear, sequential, brief and comprehensible account of anything at all. Their minds simply do not work that way.

One just starts a lot of half-sentences in the right general direction and apparently hopes that one of them will land on the target. It drives me completely crazy. The other (better-informed) one has something I don't know what to call, but I think of it as verbal dyslexia; mixing up words, answering the wrong question, getting the right answer precisely backwards. It's okay if you're used to it and you know enough to catch it.

It's like two earphone leads trying to have a fight.