La La La Human Steps

February 10, 2008

Last Tuesday, on the recommendation of a friend, we went to see the dance company La La La Human Steps at the Hippodrome. The production was called Amjad and though I don’t pretend to entirely understand the concept behind it (partly because I was too mean to buy a programme) it did seem to have a Swan Lake theme with the music sounding reminiscent of it in places.

La La La Human Steps

I’ve seen Swan Lake but this was a modern piece and incorporated more acrobatic movements. All the dancers, male and female, looked very muscular and there was an interesting mixture of body types and heights (unlike the few classical ballets I’ve seen the dancers varied in height from quite short to very tall). It was impressive to see the skill and athleticism of some of the moves. At a couple of points, when the male dancers were on stage, one of them looked as if he were doing a pirouette, but horizontally in the air! (Apparently this is the barrel move and it’s certainly impressive to watch simply for the skill and sheer physical courage that it must involve). All the dancers seemed to have superb control where every gesture from posture to fingertips seemed to have meaning.

The music was quite mournful and was played live by a group of four musicians (grand piano, cello and two violins). There was good use of lighting (rather cold lighting) which seemed to catch the movements of the dancers very well (at first I thought the dancers had finger extensions as their swan like gestures were so graceful, but I think that this was the light emphasising the hand movements).

The piece was long – it started at 7.30 pm and continued until 9.15 pm with no interval and yet I didn’t get bored or restless.

I felt that the audience was unusual for a ballet in that it consisted of a good mixture of ages; along with well heeled retired people who, I imagine, have the time and money to attend ballets, there were people our age as well as a lot of youngsters cheering and whistling loudly at the end which made me feel I must be attending something cool 🙂

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Global Party

January 27, 2008

Yesterday evening we went to a “Global Party” held at the Cross in Moseley. This was a very nice affair with a good live band, the Late Arrivals (though unfortunately the sound system didn’t do them justice as it was so loud all definition appeared to be lost in a mush of noise). However, the main reason we went was to see our belly dance teacher Yasmine perform. She put on a sterling performance which had everyone looking on in admiration at her artistry in which she made the most difficult moves look relaxed and easy. Yasmine explains to us in our classes that belly dancing is an ancient North African folkloric dance and this is the emphasis she puts on it when teaching. The more modern cabaret version of the dance came about later.

Belly dancing has an emphasis on isolation of the muscles so that they move while the rest of the body is kept still, for example, in some moves you endeavour to keep the torso, neck and head still while the legs and the side abdominal muscles (the obliques I think these are called) do the work. This concept of isolating certain muscles seems similar to what is practiced in hip hop though of course the dances are very different.

One thing I have noticed is that belly dancing seems to bring out the exhibitionist in some people. At the end of Yasmine’s performance she started to invite people to dance with her and, while being flattered at the invitation, most of us will still let her take centre stage as even with a few lessons we know we’re going to look really rubbish beside her. However, a few people seemed to take this as an invitation to take over the stage, try to push Yasmine out of the limelight and make themselves the centre of attention. Yasmine, of course, handled the matter with grace and inclusiveness, showing tolerance and friendliness to the people concerned who were … shameless, is the word that springs to mind. This is not a judgment, merely an observation, and it can be very funny in a cringe making kind of way.

Facebook

January 22, 2008

Someone sent me this link which is a rant and very biased, rather than a balanced piece of journalism. It does, however, bring up some interesting stuff about the alleged philosophical and political ideas behind facebook.

Python and Jython: they’re the main two

January 22, 2008

I’ve come across some differences between python and jython while amending a grinder test harness. Using python 2.5.1 I can do this to get a uri embedded in a string:

tup = text.partition('rdf:about="')
resourceTup = tup[2].partition('"')
print resourceTup[0]

partition returns an array of substring before the separator, the separator itself, and the substring after the separator.

Of course, when running under jython, it would error with:
‘string’ object has no attribute ‘partition’

But this works in jython:

tup = text.split('rdf:about="')
resourceTup = tup[1].split('"')
print resourceTup[0]

I wondered if jython were using the java String class as you can use split and join, however, there is no indexOf method etc as there is in the java String class.

Here is a useful command to find out what methods an object supports

dir(str)

and can be used in jython to find out what methods a Java class supports

dir(String.class)

There are of course far more fundamental differences between the two than itty bitty string handling.

Wing Chun (notes on importance of relaxation)

January 9, 2008

This week Sifu reiterated the importance of relaxation and of maintaining the correct structure. When practicing fook sau or tan sau, and when your partner is pressing into you, concentrate on maintaining the angle of the shape (by using your triceps); if you try to counter by tensing your biceps and using strength you will fail if you are weaker, and even if you are stronger you will tire yourself.

To paraphrase Sifu:

Tension slows you down – tension in the muscles decreases speed.
Tension shows intention (your opponent can see or feel what you will do next).

Unfortunately, Monday night I yet again got bruises on my arms through not applying the tan sau structure correctly. Tonight one of the instructors took me through it slowly and it was interesting to feel how tan sau should be when applied properly. There should be no clashing, but friction, as your opponents arm travels down yours as the blow is deflected rather than blocked. Wrist must be kept straight in line with the forearm and fingers extended. The clash seemed to occur perhaps because I wasn’t turning enough in my stance or wasn’t turning the arm fully into the tan sau position (the arm should “corkscrew” up into position). I was perhaps also pushing outwards with the forearm rather than concentrating on the centre line.

Programming Collective Intelligence

December 30, 2007

It’s easy to get so involved in your day to day work that you don’t find the time to read around the wider areas of your profession (or at least I find this to be the case). Because of this, one of my colleagues suggested that we have a “geek book club” where we read articles and books that are related to software development, and through this I’ve encountered books such as Object Thinking and Pragmatic Programmer that I otherwise wouldn’t have heard of. For holiday reading over Christmas one of my colleagues suggested that we read Programming Collective Intelligence.

Programming Collective Intelligence
Programming Collective Intelligence by Toby Segaran

This is a book about machine learning and AI in relation to developing Web 2.0 applications so there are chapters about search engines, spam filtering and making recommendations a la Amazon. These chapters I haven’t read but, as I’d implemented a genetic algorithm at university, what I immediately did was to skip to chapter 11 entitled Evolving Intelligence which is about Genetic Programming.

Genetic Programming is a term I’d not heard of before but it is, apparently, an offshoot of Genetic Algorithms. The difference, as I understand it, is that Genetic Algorithms start with an initial population of data structures which represent the answers to a problem. These data structures are amended using the evolutionary concepts of crossover and mutation and a fitness function which chooses the fittest structures (answers) to go on to the next generation. However, as the author explains, Genetic Programming evolves the algorithm itself, not just the parameters or results of an algorithm. In Segaran’s example the algorithm is modelled as a parse tree, which is the way in which programs are often first broken down by a compiler or an interpreter. This tree representation of the algorithm is then subject to crossover and mutation to evolve “better” programs as defined by the fitness function.

This kind of programming, the author tells us, has been used in fields such as optics, gaming, evolving scientific inventions such as antennas for NASA, designing a concert hall shape that gives the best acoustics etc. Though this is only one chapter in a book it goes further than the basics, for example, it touches on how you can provide the algorithm with memory and the algorithmic population with shared memory to help it learn longer term strategies, and points you in the direction of implementing this. I was most impressed and wished that I’d had this book to hand when first learning about the subject. I’ve only read chapter 11 and a bit of chapter 5 but these have already given me a good overview of the subject of genetic algorithms/programming, refreshed my memory on stuff I’ve already learned, taught me new things as well as helped me brush up on the python language. If these chapters are anything to go by then the entire book is well worth reading.

The Singing Ringing Tree

December 30, 2007

I was delighted to receive, as a Christmas present from a friend, a copy of The Singing Ringing Tree which I remember watching as a very little girl – maybe around 5 or even younger.

The Singing Ringing Tree

The blurb on the DVD describes it as a fairy tale that “haunted a generation” and it must have made an impression on me because although I was only very little when I watched it I still have vivid memories of it. Watching it as an adult I can see why. For a start it’s in technicolour with glorious and strange scenery which reminds me of watching the Wizard of Oz, though of course the settings are on a smaller scale. The soundtrack is very evocative, especially in the scary bits. The acting is good for that sort of thing – the sort of theatrical, unsubtle acting which works well on stage and the costumes are good, for example, when the prince gets turned into a bear they were clever enough not to have a bear mask but to have hairs glued onto his face so you could still see the pathos in his features (as my friend put it he doesn’t look like Bungle out of Rainbow which would have been really rubbish).

I chose to watch it with the English voice over, just as I watched it as a little kid. This is a narrator telling the story Jackanory style in line with the visuals. I don’t know in how many countries this was shown, but I can see how it could have wide appeal as the visuals and acting are compelling enough, and with a narrator telling the story in their own language it would work for children anywhere. There is one thing I misremember … instead of hearing the actors’ voices in the background (it was a German production and the actors speak in German) I remember a constant burbling in the background of what sounded like another narration in Czech or something? … this of course added to the overall weirdness … perhaps this is a false memory but the friend who gave it to me says that he remembers the same.

The wicked dwarf is very scary indeed and I am surprised that it didn’t scare me as a little kid. When he’s thwarting the prince and princess you can hear his cackling laughter as his face pops up out of a cloud, or out of the side of a tree, or out of the ground like an evil teletubby.

Philosophy – what’s the use?

December 17, 2007

There are a couple of people, including myself, in our team at work who have philosophy degrees. I went to university later on in life as what is euphemistically called a “mature student” so I had to go through the annoyance of putting up with such comments from friends and family as “Philosophy – you must be mad what the hell use is that?” Apart from my Mum, who always supports me in anything I choose to do, who said that she was sure studying philosophy would be “very nice”.

I was, therefore, glad to receive from a colleague of mine, whose son is doing maths and philosophy, this link to a paper which espouses the benefits of studying for a philosophy degree and the transferable skills it helps to develop which should be of benefit to any employer.

It’s a formidable list of benefits and I don’t pretend to having half of these transferable skills but I’ve never regretted my decision to study philosophy. It raises the important question of what is the use of any degree. Maths and English can certainly be applied to a lot of practical and useful careers, but what about Music? Should we really allow youngsters to study music as ultimately “what the hell use is that”? But if you are of the opinion that every degree should be vocational and “useful” then you may end up like the man who learned to service the betamax video recorder (as a philosophy student at my university pointed out).

And what is education for? Is it to produce worker drones or is it to produce people who can think for themselves?

In Britain I think there is often a prejudice against intellectualism which, as a friend of mine pointed out, often manifests in the often overheard phrase “Oh these people, they may have degrees but they have no common sense” and of course Socrates was murdered by the state for his wisdom!

What, after all, is the use of you? or of myself? Is Gont Mountain useful, or the Open Sea? … (Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea)

First Impressions of Stockholm

December 14, 2007

First impression was of course the weather, which was damp and cold, and the darkess, in December it gets dark at 3.00 pm. I’ve heard that there’s a high suicide rate in Sweden because they don’t get enough light, however, a bit of googling shows this to be a myth.

Another impression is that of the public transport system which seemed very complicated, until we got the hang of it and realised that it was very simple as long as you’re good at directions and can hold a map in your head. Stockholm central metro station is very big, very sprawled out and with lots of exits and escalators which makes it very confusing. One thing I did notice was the pleasing lack of advertising, instead it had painted walls with a few murals which gave an impression of a public space belonging to the people of the city, rather than corporations.

Another impression was of the people, who did not seem very warm and friendly (according to my two Greek companions, who are rather expressive) however, they were polite and helpful and spoke very good English (their education system must be excellent). We stayed at Kista which is north west of Stockholm and is a bit like Milton Keynes, but we also explored Djurgarden, Norrmalm, the centre bit by Stockholm Central Station, and of course Gamla Stan the old medieval town. In all these places we saw no evidence of anti-social behaviour and we felt very safe. As it was December there were many Christmas (or Yuletide) markets, as well as a fairground and in all of these places open fires were burning. Imagine an open bonfire in the German market in Victoria Square or the Bullring in Birmingham – you’d get people being silly and chucking it around and setting fire to things.

It was also nice to see children looking dignified and sensibly dressed as children instead of dressed up like slutty teenagers – apparently advertising aimed and children under 12 is banned and it certainly shows in what they are wearing.

Clothes and shoes seems no more expensive than your average prices here, however, eating out and going to bars is very expensive (a single Baileys and ice cost £6).

Probably due to the weather, and the light, and being built on an archipelago and with a lot of water around, Stockholm gave the impression of being a wee bit mournfull, though not in a depressing or dreary way, but rather in a detached, calm way.

Bong Sau and Tan Sau notes

December 5, 2007

The wrist is on the centre line and when turning from bong sau to tan sau (as in the 3rd section of siu nim tao) the wrist should stay in the same place. Tan Sau stays roughly a fist and thumb distance away from the body with the elbow in line with the hip. Both bong sau and tan sau can be higher or lower depending on the height of your partner (tan sau should point roughly at your partner’s throat/chin as you can strike more efficiently from that position).

Bong sau is not necesarily a deflective technique (is it a deflective technique at all?) but is used to gain information. Once you’ve turned out of the way of the strike bong sau is put into place to tell where your opponent’s arm/elbow is and then you can countermove from there. From when you are in the basic stance bong sau moves through the centreline and then “corkscrews” up into position at the last moment to avoid clashing.