Monday 30 January 2012

A new way of being great

Leader 1

I really like dancing behind M, it's like he's dancing with me as well. He's quite cheeky, he sort of takes and gives space, with permission. I really enjoy it.

Leader 2
Yeah, I like that. I do that a little bit too.

I never thought of that; once they mention it, it seems obvious (but lovely).

Saturday 28 January 2012

Metaphors and translations

This week has been a week of metaphors that don't translate very well.

At work, a piece of software behaved inexplicably, and it turned out to be because of confusion among developers speaking about six native languages about the multiple senses of English "leave" (to quit the company) and "leave" (permission to be absent) combined with more confusion about "extended" (longer than usual), "extended" (given), and "extended" (performing an additional function).

In tango, I encountered two metaphors that totally failed to translate from the Spanish; one of them involved socks and the other one involved a table lamp.

There is a moderately well-known English footballer who used to play in Spain, and who made a second career as a pundit on Spanish television. Apparently he earned many fans by translating colourful expressions literally from the English, such as "handbags" and "it was six of one and half a dozen of the other", creating bafflement and hilarity in equal measures. (I can't remember his name, because I'm more interested in words than football).

About ten minutes afterwards it came to me that the bit about the table lamp was conceivably a compliment, but actually I have no clue.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Oliver Kolker on teaching and learning

This is from November last year, but I think his reflections are interesting:

Oliver Kolker: Teaching and Learning Proocess: ... it was never an issue of getting bored when I had to just walk over and over again.  I knew this was a necessary foundation for the dance and I enjoyed understanding I was building and developing my craft, my footwork, balance, etc… it’s like people approaching this dance with a goal of being good (obviously) but the approach and the goal should be a journey in itself...
This, I think, is important. If you always enjoy where you are, and you also always enjoy improving something, a lot of problems become unimportant, or even fun.

It makes sense to me to think of it as a process of independent research in which you consult, from time to time, anyone you think may have some information that interests you. What works? What doesn't work? What feels good? What depends on what else? In what way is each person's information coloured by their own tastes and limitations, and in how far is it more widely applicable? Like when you study history and you think about primary and secondary sources and their agendas.

You don't expect everyone to say the same thing, and you don't expect one person to give you the whole story. That would be ridiculous. It's not like being at school, where the game is about pretending to do no more nor less than is expected of you by someone else. This is a real thing in the real world, and it's a matter of finding out, rather than studying. If you needed exams and competitions to find out whether you were any good, you'd be doing ballroom.

Kolker (I think he's from New York):

Research - as opposed to just learning - is a process of finding out what it is that you don't know. If that - "what's the next thing I don't know?" is always the information you're looking for, then you make discoveries. This is true no matter what the subject matter. Kolker:
... because at the end of the day when some of us become really good THERE IS NO MEDAL, NO SACK OF GOLD AT THE END OF A RAINBOW OR AND OLD MAN TO HAND YOU A DIPLOMA.

I'm not sure why I would want any of that (although I wouldn't say no to a random bag of gold, I suppose). But, so far, there are lots of very pretty balloons.

That said, there are conditions under which a thoughtful stare and an approving nod can feel like a medal.

I was reading The Economist earlier today; it reviewed a book about people who learn lots of languages. It suggested that those who do this successfully are simply those who find the hard work part of it fun; who enjoy the parts everyone else finds boring. That's probably all the answer there is to this stuff.

Anyway: go ahead and read the whole thing. I haven't presented all his thoughts, nor even the most emphatically expressed.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Positive Thought

A very special thank you to the person who told me she made a donation to Centrepoint when I posted about them at Christmas.

Here, from Periodic Videos, is the Professor setting off the smoke alarm in the lecture hall: Chromium Trioxide FAIL. It's quite enjoyable.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Hibernating and philosophising (other people's problems)

I really want to hibernate at this time of year. Some minor upgrades in my flat, together with a bit more interest at work, should mean better sleep and a more awake and creative hedgehog over the next few weeks. But I don't like winter very much. At least the days are getting longer now.

Tango helps me a lot in winter - most of the time it's a guaranteed mood-lifter, and even when the social side can be emotionally tricky, stepping on a few emotional mines is much better for me than just hiding away from this stuff.

My first week back at work contained far too much stressing about big-company problems. More or less all big companies that have been around for the time it takes to get big, have more or less the same problems. They include organisational stupidity: not stupidity of the people, as such, but stupidity created by the mere size of the organisation. Pointless and irritating problems that go unsolved for years, or even decades, because they are on too big a scale for anyone who can actually see them to solve, but too small a scale to be seen by anyone with the power to solve them, while at the same time being too embarrassingly stupid for the person whose problem they are supposed to be, to acknowledge their existence at all. It happens all the time.

Working for a big organisation also has advantages, and I know very well what they are. If I can't take big-company problems any more, the only answer is to move to a small company. Small companies have different problems and different advantages. Generally speaking, I can take big-company problems. Every now and then I just have to have a rant to my Mum or something. But I'm keeping an open mind. If you want a really good writer and "applications" bod who can talk to programmers, isn't a fool or a pedant, and frankly enjoys International English, feel free to make me an offer. I don't like long hours but I'm good at thinking, and I never lie to project managers. If I don't know the answer, I'll say so. But I'm all right where I am. Oh, and I can draw diagrams that make my boss less confused rather than more.

Everybody has problems. When I am feeling fed up about something, it's a good idea to ask myself:
  • What, exactly, is really the problem? Does it even exist? How do I know?
  • Is there anything that I can DO about this problem? Would it work?
  • Is it actually, primarily, when it comes down to it, MY problem?

Nothing necessarily gives us the obligation or the right to try to solve other people's problems. Other people have a right to their own problems, and they have a right to understand them, solve them, or neglect them in their own way. Even if a problem is to some extent a problem for me, it may be that there's someone else who has a better claim on it. I'm entitled to protect myself from harm, but I'm not entitled to run around clearing plates or moving furniture when I'm supposed to be a guest. That's irritating and officious at best; controlling and manipulative at worst. And if you don't know how the dishwasher works or where anything goes, it's harmful. The guest also has a role to play.

It's sometimes a good exercise to look around your life for things that are Somebody Else's Problem.

My new year's resolutions - well, I'll call them plans:

1) Stop worrying about big-company problems
2) Work on my leading.

New in my RSS feed:
Ta-Nehisi Coates, a superb writer and thinker on many subjects, but I particularly admire his willingness to distinguish between what he knows and what he doesn't know. That's how you tell real imagination from Bullshit. I love his articles on reading books - he's been reading George Eliot and Jane Austen.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Sad story

I had never met Andrea Misse, and know nothing about her that wasn't the purest hearsay; but she had a lot of influence on people who dance tango. And either personally, or because of that influence, she meant a great deal to people I know. And I want to say so and send a virtual hug, even though I haven't got anything else to say.

Car accidents - we should all bless every day that no such thing happens to us, for there is no reason why it wouldn't. As some legendary philosopher said - grandfather dies, father dies, son dies, and this is a blessing. A sad start to 2012.