Friday 17 December 2010

Happy Holidays ...

... are optional. I couldn't possibly say it better.

I'm on holiday till January, with both the opportunity and the intention to be happy. If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider a donation to Centrepoint. [Update: also, this is fun! hat tip Language Log]

Wednesday 15 December 2010

How much joy of music can one small body hold?

If you can watch this right through and not be at least briefly happy, consider seeking medical advice.

hat-tip Theo Chatzipetros

Friday 10 December 2010

The Antikythera Mechanism - in Lego

Long-time readers may remember the Antikythera Mechanism; an astronomical instrument made in about 100BC, lost at sea, and recovered some 2,000 years later. It includes among other things a phase-of-the-moon device and dials predicting eclipses of the sun. Instructions for use were inscribed inside the case, and they're still working on [try this if that's down] deciphering and translating them. It's very beautiful. Quite a lot more seems to have been learnt about it. For example, it seems to implement a partly or mainly Babylonian model of the universe, and it specifies the date of an obscure athletic event that was only really interesting if you lived near Dodona in Western Greece.

A new article is freely downloadable from Nature, and written for the layman with some very nice illustrations.

Now Andrew Carol, a software engineer at Apple, has replicated the mechanism in Lego. It'll please the mathematicians among you:

And here's the first-pass replica, again, because it's so pretty:

Hat tip The Register

Thursday 9 December 2010

Ella Sharp - Todo Trajeado

The Rail
Ella Sharp designs and makes clothes for dancing tango and for all occasions. Her clothes are all brilliantly coloured - it's a non-negotiable artistic boundary that you can have almost any colour from time to time, as long as it's not black. They're made of beautiful fabrics and are full of fascinating little details of construction.

Most of her designs aren't quite my personal style, with their relatively formal structure and visible complexity, but they are varied. A couple of weeks after the show in the pictures I called back to see if she still had a brilliantly-conceived skirt that moves in a satisfying way when I dance and had been priced at 30% off. I bought it and I've worn it abroad. [Disclosure: there was no request to write anything but Ella knows perfectly well this is me and knew that perfectly well before fixing the price. It was in the sale because it had been a sample for a while. As far as I can tell it's perfect. I probably would have bought it on the day, and maybe at full price, if I hadn't been worried about work.]

Bustle bustle
The skirt fit me perfectly without alteration, but Ella also makes to order, and having something made to fit you that you really, really like is fabulous. I haven't had it done very often, I had a dress made once and someone's working on a suit for me, but when you can afford it, it's extremely worthwhile, especially for anything structured. And Ella's prices are very reasonable for the quality; you get something that you're likely to wear a lot, and I've certainly paid more for less where shoes are concerned.

If you ever perform as a dancer, then I would definitely suggest looking into it, as I think Ella's design talents lie that way. Especially if you're going for more of a grown-up look. Plus, if it fits properly then embarrassing wardrobe errors with bits falling off, or out, are much less likely. I think tango performances look much better in slightly heightened versions of normal clothing, rather than trashy stagey lycra tat, and some of Ella's one-offs are extremely fluid as well as colourful, perfect for the job. And only think, you could get it to match your favourite shoes.

I'm posting this because I feel that it's also very nice to get this kind of thing from a small business you can have a personal relationship with, when you have the opportunity and you happen to like the product.

It's classy. Ella brings her stock and holds sales at milongas from time to time, often together with Coleccion La Recoleta. You can also visit, view, try on, and buy at studio events in various London locations, and they're lovely, with tea, cakes, lots of chat and no feeling of pressure. Find sales and events at or join the Facebook group. The flyer on the right is for Saturday, 11th December, and clicking the link should take you to details.

Sunday 5 December 2010

La Milonga de La Luna

I believe this is intended to turn into a monthly milonga for 2011, but at the time of writing it's irregular and you'll need to check the website or the Facebook group to keep up. This occasion was an end-of-year party. It's organised by Eleonora Simoes. At ULU (University of London Union), Malet St, WC1E 7HY. 21:00-02:00.

The Class: There wasn't one.

Layout and Atmosphere: Once you get past the bouncers making sure you don't stage a sit-in, there's a nice lady doing the money and sitting in front of a coat rack, next to which are some chairs for your pupation into butterfly. It was a cold night, so this took me a while. The room's a theatre, with stage, big sound sytem, and a mezzanine or circle above. The DJ is tucked in below the stage, and tables with chairs behind them are laid out close to the wall, so you can sit behind but not walk, on the other three sides. There's a second row of bar-style tables along the open side under the mezzanine.You can reserve a table if there are four or more of you. It wasn't that full so there seemed to be enough seating for everyone. The bar is in the lobby under the mezzanine, and there's a large low platform, also with chairs, where the shoe shop and the cakes were. So there's plenty of room to sit out or socialise if you want to. The walls and ceiling are painted a very beautiful dark blue, the chairs are blue, and the silver velvet tablecloths looked very pretty and made me smile. I had no problems with the floor, which was perfectly smooth without being slippery. The room was fairly cool when I came in, but not cold.

Hospitality: Good. Coat racks for your stuff behind the desk, adequate seating. My single G&T was £3.50, tap water and bottled water appeared to be available from the bar. Actually someone got the water for me, so I didn't try to ask for tap water myself and can't vouch for it. On this occasion there were also some cakes on the platform in the lobby. The loos (ladies' by the bar) are clean and very well lit and in good condition, if a little rickety, pretty much what you'd expect from a university building. The coat rack was already near full when I arrived so your stuff might be a bit squashed if you come at 23:30.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: German Salvatierra gave a performance entitled "The Man With Four Legs". I didn't have a good view, but it's nice to see intentional comedy on a dance floor. Also, Coleccion La Recoleta were there with their Comme Il Faut tango shoe collection.

What I thought of the DJing: I'm actually not sure whether German Salvatierra was DJing, or Diego Doigenau (who's also the usual DJ at Negracha). Tandas, cortinas, 90% traditional from when I came in. There was one dodgy milonga that that didn't go in the tanda and about half the floor assumed to be a cortina, but I don't know who played it, it might have been an accident. Otherwise it was all strong music, mostly familiar, I had no problems with any of it.

Getting in: £13, well over the London norm of £10. Non-dancers and ULU members pay £10.

Getting there and getting home: Russell Square is, marginally, nearest. When you come out of Russell Square, walk left, crossing the street; turn right at the lights. You're now on Woburn Place. Take the first left, next lights, just after the big "International" hotel. Carry on past various university buildings till you get to the corner of Malet street. There is a red door on the street you're on, but this time a sign directed me round the corner to the brightly-lit main entrance. There were a lot of bouncers, who may be there all the time or might have been there in case we started looking like we wanted to stage a sit-in. Or a dance-in, or something. Go in, go upstairs (on your right) to the first floor. It's a few minutes' walk, but under ten.

If you returned to Woburn Place and went back past Russell Square you'd come to Southampton Row, Theobald's Road, and the Holborn area where lots of night buses go from. If you went in the opposite direction you'd very soon get to Euston station, where there are more. Last Tubes are between 00:25 and 00:45 on Saturdays.

The website: is at, but you're better off with the Facebook group.

How it went: I had a really nice time and I went home in a better mood than I arrived. It had a good atmosphere, which is often the case with Eleonora's events. When she had the same room as Negracha, but on Sundays, it was very striking how she managed to create a nice atmosphere with just a bit of embellishment and changing where the tables were. I thought about staying to the end, but quit while I was winning and took a train. The main reason I left was that England were 2 for 317 at Adelaide, leading by 72, which doesn't happen every four years, play started at midnight, and the siren voice of Jonathan Agnew was calling me to get home at 1am rather than 4. But also I'd already had some nice dances and the core of those who go to Eleonora's events are more nuevo-style in their tastes than me; so although quite a few of them are good dancers and I can totally work with it, I'm not quite their thing. Anyway, the evening made me happy.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Jaimito and the six-pack

Good luck to Jaimito, at Milonga Para Tres, in his experiment:

"There is a common belief among some people that it is impossible, or at least very difficult, to be in incredible shape and have a comfortable embrace. ... So right after I get stuffed tonight for Thanksgiving dinner, I'll start an experiment to get incredibly ripped, and still have a comfortable embrace, which will be verified through pictures and through the opinions of milongueras who dance with me."

Go for it! The common belief, incidentally, is bollocks. It's certainly possible to be in pretty good shape and have a great embrace. I haven't closely inspected the six-packs of any of the dancers I'm thinking of, so I can't tell you for certain how well defined they are, but I can think of several definitely fit men with definitely working tummy muscles and beautiful snuggly embraces. And fat men who you just bounce off of, boinngg.

I also happen to know that if you train in the right way, it is possible to use your tummy muscles to make the woman laugh. However, I don't advise you to try this unless you're pretty sure she's going to.

Getting dizzy, or not

Most of the time, when my partner leads more than a couple of complete turns in the same direction, I get dizzy. I appreciate a turn or two the other way, to counteract the motion in my inner ear. If it happens that we stop just after the turn - as can happen when someone is showing me or practicing something - then I feel the need to unwind myself before the conversation goes on.

I don't know any way of preventing this - I've been advised to open my eyes, but I can't really tell if this helps or not, and whether I have my eyes closed or open usually depends on other things. Once I notice being dizzy it's too late.

But on this occasion, we went round and round and round and round and round and round really fast in a really tight circle, faster than I had any idea I could go, and then it was the end, and I expected to feel dizzy, and I even said something about it as I was expecting it to hit me, but then I noticed that it sort of hadn't. I did feel a tiny bit dizzy, but what I mostly felt was out of breath.

What I want to know is, why?

Does being hot and out of breath overwhelm it?

I also happen to know that this particular person, besides being a very good dancer, specifically cultivates the ability to make women feel like they've hit it out of the park against good bowling. He's extremely stable, well built, physically fit, and has a particularly firm and reliable embrace. But there are other people who dance very well and have good embraces and I still get dizzy. So, is there something the leader can do, about the way he turns, to prevent the woman getting dizzy?

Was it something to do with the sheer speed? I think the centre of the turn must have been between us rather than centred on him, but I don't remember for sure.

Was it because we happened to be very much on the spot (the floor was nearly empty and it made sense with the music) rather than turning and progressing both at once? Does that make it easier not to be dizzy?

Maybe we just took a lot of small steps to get around the turn and we weren't really turning as much as I thought we were? I didn't dare open my eyes, so I didn't really have the faintest idea where we were in relation to anything except each other. Maybe the world wasn't whizzing past as fast as I imagined.

After we whizzed past the number of turns where I usually would have got dizzy I did notice something rising inside that said "I'm not giving in here". So maybe this sensation caused me to do something physically, I don't know what, that moderated the dizziness? I did think very strongly about dancing towards him, and letting my feet take care of themselves, so maybe there's something there that I can use in future.

Was it because it happened to be at the end of the tanda, and I got to stand still and hug him for a few seconds before having to walk to a chair? But that was exactly when I was expecting to feel dizzy, and I just don't think I really did. Or only a tiny bit.

Peculiar. Hard to know.

[Update: discussion in the comments suggests that high speed is the explanation - if you go fast enough it's easier to recover. But they won't work for the leaf-on-a-stream sort of turn that's much more common in tango]