Thursday 21 August 2008

Out of Office Message

I am on holiday. I'll be back in the second week of September.

If you are looking for something new to read, try one of the links on the right hand side. I've recently added some links to discussion forums, which should keep you busy. Or you could visit the Cloud Appreciation Society, or read Calculated Risk, or watch a free public lecture at the Royal Society or at UC Berkeley or look at the sky from above.

Otherwise, talk amongst yourselves.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Por una cabeza

If you read some Spanish, go and see El Rey de la Milonga.

Presented by Una Milonguera in association with Colombia Pictures, and starring Escarlata Juanson, Natalia Puertman, and Enrico Banana.

I laughed at the spolier alert, and then asked myself - if I were Argentinian, why on earth would I already know what happens to Anne Boleyn?


Sunday 17 August 2008

A new dress

I had a new dress on Saturday. It's not especially revealing or provocative, but it's a little bit more of both than I usually wear. It's also very brightly-coloured, and it suits me.

It was enough of a departure that I spent most of the evening feeling selfconscious and partly convinced that it would fall to pieces or detach itself from my person as a judgement upon me for wearing an eye-catching dress that only cost £10. Still, if you added the price of the shoes, you'd get at least as respectable a figure for the outfit, as an outfit for the figure. And I think my problem was that the fabric is one of those strange polyester stuffs that feels a lot like wearing nothing at all.

Anyway, here's the thing: as always happens when I wear something more striking than usual, I got more extra attention from the women than the men. Women know very well that putting on clothes is a public artistic endeavour, whether the artist likes it or not. They know how insecure you feel, and why; they know the value of kindly applause, and they give it with great generosity. When women think one of their number has made a happy choice or a good aesthetic judgement, has managed her resources well, or achieved a pleasing and appropriate effect, it's not at all uncommon for them to sit down next to her and say exactly what they think about her outfit. Such praise - and it is praise, more than a compliment - is worth having, and should be treasured, and taken as gracefully as possible with a thank you for the kindness. And I hope I manage that, when I'm so fortunate.

Men who can give praise naturally, who do not convince themselves women hear them thinking, or edit themselves to frigidity rather than risk being misunderstood, deserve to be encouraged too. And I hope I do it.

Saturday 16 August 2008

Fair Isle Tiger

FrontThis is another present for a baby. I am at the age where my friends and colleagues are going into production. There are two more babies on the way already, and I don't know what I'm going to do about them.

For this baby, I thought I would do a tiger. It has to be black and yellow, but I didn't want to do anything too complex with the shape. Fair Isle patterns seemed right for a tiger's wavy, irregular camouflage stripes. I got the particular patterns used here from Elizabeth Zimmerman's Opinionated Knitter - some are her own, some traditional. I work Fair Isle in the same way she did, with one colour in each hand. I don't do it very often, so I had a false start and had to unravel; but once you get into the rhythm it's not at all difficult, and not much slower than plain knitting. It looks very impressive, though.

Pre-assemblyI made the body first. You can see the provisional cast-on in green in the pre-assembly picture on the right. Each end is closed with hexagonal decreases. When making animals, I always cast on 60 and work in the round. It gives a tube of reasonable size, and has lots of factors, which is useful for placing increases and decreases, and very handy for Fair Isle. Here, I used patterns repeating over ten, six, and two. For each leg I cast on 24 and used patterns over six and eight. For the tail, I cast on sixteen, and used the same pattern over eight. All appendages end with sock toes.

faceI did the Moomin on four needles, but nowadays I use the Magic Loop method. This doesn't work for every shape, but it's perfectly OK for anything more or less symmetrical - which animals notoriously are - and it doesn't matter what size the tube is, which is nice for all the fiddly limbs. I also find it significantly faster than working on four needles. Magic Loop naturally divides the knitting into two equal parts, and for the Frog, it was very convenient for one half to be its back and the other its belly. For the tiger, I put the end of the round, where the patterns jog, down the centre of its belly.

I made four legs and a tail seperately, stuffed and closed each individually, then sewed them on with what Debbie Stoller calls fake grafting. The last step was to embroider a face. Except that I suddenly noticed he had no ears. To make ears, I cast on 9 and decreased by two in each knit row till there was nothing left; I sewed them on with a bit of a curve to make them perk up.

This particular tiger has a long voyage to make. This week, he is to be posted to Mumbai.

Thursday 14 August 2008

My Mother's Work

granny squares yellow sideWhen I was little, my mother used to make granny squares. She had a big bag of different coloured yarns, and for each row of each square, she would reach into the bag and take a colour without looking. The last row she would always work in black. Eventually the yarns became a big bag of random, multicoloured, black-edged squares.

granny squares blue sideOne day when I was, I think, about ten, she laid all the squares out on the floor, and arranged them in rows with predominantly-blue squares at one corner and predominantly-yellow squares at the opposite corner. She discarded a few, made a few to fill in gaps, stored them all in order and began to join them up.

This is the result. Isn't it beautiful?

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Tango in Seattle

I'm going to be in Seattle, WA, USA from 27th August to 5th September, staying with a (non-dancing) friend.

Without assuming I actually will - my mind will be on other things - where could I go to get one or two nice dances, where my friend would also be welcome, and be able to sit and have a quiet drink, possibly take a beginners' class if she feels like an adventure, or perhaps have a cake and a cup of tea?

Monday 11 August 2008

Tango al fresco

This is an annual event, on two dates in summer, and I only made it to the second and an hour of the first. So this post is only useful if you might go next year.

The class: There's a beginners' class before the dancing, I was too late for it but heard good things about it and met one person who seemed to have been inspired by the one in July.

Layout and atmosphere: A temporary dance floor, plus a DJ tent, in Broadwalk, Regent's Park. It's very, very beautiful. The weather adds excitement; and the wide-eyed audience of people just there to enjoy the park has its charm. Each time I've been, it's been very well attended and the small floor extremely crowded.

I think it bears repeating that the floor is small, and was very crowded - sometimes almost properly, 'milonguero' crowded, so that if you use no more than your fair share of space, you will have less than the length of your shins in leeway. <rant>Deleted.</rant>

Hospitality: Bring your own picnic and put down your rug to reserve a place on the grass. I just brought a box of strawberries from the farmers' market, and they were great. Open to the elements, on two dates in an English summer, so omit neither sun cream nor an adequate umbrella. If you wear proper dancing shoes, choose some you don't mind spoiling a little or which won't be too much harmed by surprise rain. There is a place to get tea, coffee, and ice cream a short distance away (continue down Broadwalk to where the road comes through, cross, and you're there). The ladies' loos are round the back of the coffee place, and are plentiful, working, and clean, if wonky. Don't know where the gents' is, you'd have to check the park map.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: there was a performance by Carlos Paredes and Diana Giraldo. They were delayed, and they danced as soon as the floor was dry enough after a sudden storm of rain. The style of this performance didn't happen to be my thing, but I applaud them for a spirited professional act under difficult conditions, with some very scary moments.

DJing: Traditonal plus a tanda or two of modern here and there, a few valses, a few milonga sets. Nothing eccentric or challenging that I remember. The crowded floor is more than enough for most people to deal with.

Getting in: £10 donation if you're dancing, profits to the Regent's Park tree-planting fund.

Getting there and getting home: A few minutes' walk from either Regent's Park or Great Portland Street stations. From Great Portland Street, that means cross the main (Euston) road at the crossing in front of the station, walk left (crossing at the pelican crossing) until you reach the street on your right with the big, open iron gates; follow it, and you will soon see trees, and you enter the park at one corner. Take the left hand path of three, and listen for the music. But the location within the park may change, and the park is huge, so check the website.

The website: clean, simple, does the job of what, when, where, how much.

How it went: Well. It rained twice - the first time heavily enough so they had to clear the floor, the second time lightly so people danced with umbrellas in the open-side hand. Which is lovely. I danced ok, apart from wrong-footing myself with a misjudged ornament in a milonga.

When I got home, I was greeted by a magnficent double rainbow. A lovely day.

Friday 8 August 2008

Er, Hi Ravelers

Hello Ravelry people!

Most of you have just come to see the Moomin. You can click here to see just the craft posts if you like. Or you can also see the Moomin, and my other projects, on my Ravelry profile.


Wednesday 6 August 2008

Adrian and Amanda Costa

Adrian and Amanda Costa are giving some classes in London from 21st-28th August, at Conway Hall, the Crypt, the Dome, and Wild Court (where Negracha is). Check Tango-UK for details and updates, that link includes the search.

I'll be away on holiday; but I've done a workshop with them once before and I really got a lot out of it, so I would go if I wasn't somewhere else. I thought their teaching was high quality, and I also think they dance exceptionally well. For example, and I know lots of people have posted this video recently, but still:

I've said this before, I'll say it again: I love the start (to 00:37).

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Jive at the 100 Club

I decided to have a change, learning to jive at the 100 club. There's a class, then dancing, with live music, every Monday. I wanted to try some jive and this was recommended by a friend, who went with me.

The Class: The class is advertised as Lindy Hop, but my friend reckoned it was technically jive. I'm not sure what the distinction is, maybe someone will comment and tell me. After some warmup exercises, it divided into two simultaneous classes in the same room, a beginners' class and an intermediate. I hadn't jived before so I took the beginners' class. It was straightforward and enjoyable, starting with a warmup, then some footwork, and some technical basics about how to make the connection. We did open and close manouvres and a simple spin, enough to get you quite a long way. There were some women over, but we changed partners constantly. I thought the content was well chosen and and the class was well managed and fun.

What it lacked was a clear, explicit statement of the basic idea of lead and follow. It did come up, but true beginners had to be alert to grasp what they should do with the information. On the other hand, it really doesn't matter as much as it does in tango, and it's also possible I missed it because my friend and I were a few minutes late and missed the start of the warmup.

Layout and atmosphere: It's a rather long, thin room, with the bar at the near end, the stage and DJ booth facing each other along two sides, and some seating at the far end. The walls are deep red and covered in framed pictures of acts; the DJ wore a hawaiian shirt and sideburns. There's also a blue plaque commemorating someone who made "happy music" there for thirty-five years. Seating is at either end on a reasonable number of plastic chairs, and a few tables. The floor is uneven, with irregularities and even small holes. Most people wear flattish dance shoes or character shoes; I had salsa shoes with a flared heel, which were fine. Don't wear your stilettos. The atmosphere was friendly and cheerful, ages from 20s to 60s represented. Quite a lot of people dress creatively for their favourite music.

Hospitality: Good. Free water from the bar, along with reasonably-priced non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks. No food, but I think there may be a café upstairs and there are lots of places to eat nearby. I didn't see anywhere much to put your stuff, but I think there may have been a cloakroom behind the desk where you come in. My bag did fine under a chair. There is air conditioning, which works, but it still gets very hot in there. Doesn't matter as much as it does for tango, though. The loos were out of paper, but have one unusual feature: graffiti seems to be tolerated, and I read much about the activities, anatomies, finances and obsessions of the patrons of the 100 Club. It's like the walls of Pompeii in there. Also, there's a Dyson Airblade to dry your hands.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: There's live music every Monday. Laura B and the Moonlighters were indisposed, and they were replaced by the Sentinels of Rhythm, who were good. Check the website for who's on when.

What I thought of the DJ'ing: Practically all of it, and the live music, made me feel happy and want to dance. Only one or two tracks, late on, were exceptions, and that was only because they were more challenging. There were dancers there who made the most of them. They played not only things you could jive or lindy-hop to, but also some blues-like stuff which my friend decided was really a rumba. Which is fine, since I'm used to him, and rumba seems very easy to follow.

Getting in: £10, varies. There is always live music on Mondays.

Getting there and getting home: it's five or six minutes walk from Oxford Circus. Walk towards Tottenham Court Road. The club is on the same side as Topshop, just after the Plaza shopping centre, and it's just a door. Google Maps has a picture of the entrance. It ends at midnight, so chances are you can still get a train home. If not, there are buses in all directions from around Oxford Circus.

The website: The 100 club's website is a professional-looking job — it's a famous venue — but not actually very good, and tends to send you in circles looking for the information you want, which sometimes isn't there. Directions are hidden under "contact us". The London Swing Dance Society, who give the classes, have more the kind of website we're used to - messy, but what you need is there somewhere. That link leads to the listing for Mondays.

How it went: I managed OK in the class, and then I danced with my friend, who leads well in a variety of dances. I don't respond well to instruction from strangers on the dancefloor, but I know him well enough that he could set me right when I was puzzled. After a few tracks and the crucial information that, if in doubt, I'm rocking back on six, it started to gel and I felt I could contribute. I'm pretty sure any tango dancer watching me would have been able to tell that I danced tango, because tango technique and ornaments quickly began to appear, but otherwise the music and a clear lead take care of the differences. I didn't dance with anyone else, in the end, but I had a really good evening and would be happy to go there again.

A Diversion

Krugman on the Freezing Crunchy Squeeze - catches Tanta asleep

Tanta on vibrating débacles, and whether they might have tentacles (don't miss the comments)

Tanta's Muddled Metaphor Index as a measurement of market panic

Krugman calls the metaphor police and summons the octopus, with contributions from Brad DeLong and Tanta in the comments, the latter not to be missed. Tanta is one of the best writers in the blogosphere, and she and Krugman riffing off each other have just made me cry with laughter about macroeconomics.

Saturday 2 August 2008

Mappa Milonga

Here's my milonga map. The map is zoomed and centred to show you central London. Please zoom out for outliers - especially south. Zoom out is "-" at the top left, or click on the map and use "-" on your keyboard.

Clicking on the pins should get you links to the relevant websites, and to my writeups, if any. For those that don't have websites check Tango-UK.

Look in the sidebar to the right, or click here to see all my London milonga reviews.

View Larger Map

Marked in pink are those I have been to at least once. Marked in blue are those whose location I've physically checked, but I may not have been to the milonga and I definitely haven't written it up.

For the moment I'm not putting anywhere on the map until I've personally visited the location because searching by postcode can be imprecise. I use Google's satellite photos to try to put the tip of the pin as close to the entrance as I can, and I've also drawn lines representing hedgehog footprints from the nearest public transport that's convenient for me. Londoners may think this idiotic; visitors will probably find it quite helpful, especially when alone. Foreigners should also be aware that you need one of these, obtainable in any newsagent and pronounced "Ae to Zed". Or you can go to an internet café and use streetmap instead. Either way, the TFL Journey Planner is wonderful for everything except the last few hundred metres of walking, which it quite often gets wrong.

Tango calendar - shelved

Having played about with Google Calendar a bit, and sought opinions, I don't think the idea is viable.

It's obvious that it would be far too much work for one person to maintain and keep accurate. Even if someone did it, I wouldn't trust the results. There have been attempts at creating central calendars, some of which allow organisers to maintain their own data, which is the only way such a tool could possibly work. But none of them has gained enough scale to show up in searches. I think there's someone working on a new one, and I'll leave it to him.

Google calendar is rather convenient, and it's well used, for example, here. But I was assuming that it allowed you to aggregate calendars automatically in a way that doesn't appear to work yet once you embed it on a website. I'd still encourage people to try it for their own calendars. The display is all taken care of, and it's much less work than maintaining something like, as a typical example, this. It does give people the option to add your events to their own personal diaries, as well as search for them, and it's very straightforward to embed.

Aggregation could be made to work if enough people used the same or compatible tools. But I don't think it's ready to aggregate yet.

However, I've had another idea which works much better for me. It's only a glorified link list, but I think it's a nice enhancement for my own milonga reviews, and it can grow slowly with them. See next post for my better-idea Milonga Map.

Friday 1 August 2008

It lay in the museum for some months ...

According to accounts.

... And then it split apart. And when it split apart, the curator noticed the remnants of some small precision gear wheels.

The Antikythera Mechanism was made in about 100BC. It includes some beautiful spiral mechanical calendars, an eclipse predictor, a round thing demonstrating the phases of the moon, and dial telling you when to expect Olympic Games.

They've just published a paper in Nature about it, and the video is here. But if you read the letter, you get an idea of how difficult making sense of it really was.

I have a horrible cold, and apart from my runny nose, I'm a bit too ready to curl up and prickle or burst into tears and rant. Luckily, there are more interesting things out there than my cold.

The Crochet Coral Reef

A couple of weeks ago I saw the crochet coral reef at the Hayward Gallery. My Mum and I peered closely at all the forms, and had lots of fun discussing how to make them. It's beautiful; and a hyperbolic pseudosphere turns out to be wonderfully easy to make. You don't need to understand any of the mathematics, but if you did I'm sure it would be even more delightful.

What on earth would you do with it afterwards? But making fake coral is a very pleasing way to use up that utterly ghastly yarn you bought by mistake, the one that looked so intriguing and tactile on the shelf. Eyelash yarn, scratchy yarn, plush yarn, ribbon yarn, knobbly yarn, variegated slubby stuff in diced-carrot colours, it all looks wonderful as part of a piece of Art. And it's so easy to do.

The crocheted Lorenz Manifold is by no means easy to do.