alan little’s weblog archive for april 2005


29th April 2005 permanent link

Michael Smith links to yogalila, a yogini group blog, because they have some interesting stuff and because they link to him.

I am jealous, until I look and see that hey, they link to me too!

They appear to be fans of Andrey Lappa and Ana Forrest, two yoga teachers who are very high on my list of non-ashtanga teachers I would jump at a chance to study with (if it didn’t mean having to go to Los Angeles or Kiev).

New yoga pictures coming soon, ladies.

related entries: Yoga

r800 black & white notes ii

28th April 2005 permanent link

In the first episode, Alan set out to get better black & white prints from his Epson R800, but got sidetracked into the surprisingly intricate intricacies of producing greyscale test charts in Photoshop.

Now, he googles “Epson R800 black & white” (always do this first folks) and quickly finds the black & white printing discussion, where it becomes apparent that lots of people have this problem and some of them have suggestions about ways to improve it. Others say the improved results, whilst not perfect, are about as good as you can realistically expect from a printer that uses coloured inks. I shall try out some of the suggestions.

(Some of the people on think the 2100 was better for black & white because it had a grey ink cartridge. I did get very neutral black & whites from my 2100, but only with expensive third party RIP software, never with Epson’s own drivers)

Imaging Resource, on the other hand, thinks the R800 is better than the HP7960 for black & white. Oh well. If the various fixes suggested by the folks on don’t do it for me, the HPs are cheap enough to buy one, try it, and unload it on ebay if it isn’t an improvement.

UPDATE: there is also a yahoo discussion group rejoicing in the wonderful name of “DigitalBlackandWhiteThePrint”. In it a guy called Daniel Ridings recommends a method, but when I try it I find I don't like it – too blue.

In the yahoo group I also find a link to’s review of the R1800 (bigger version of the R800) where they say:

Inkset neutrality for black and white printing: We interviewed several Epson employees about this issue, and they indicated that because the R1800 inkset does not have the light black ink (like the 2200, 4000, 7600 and 9600), it will not produce as neutral black and white prints as does the 2200, especially with matte and fine art papers.

related entries: Photography

r800 black & white notes

28th April 2005 permanent link

I’m (still) very happy with the colour glossies I get from my Epson R800. Our wedding photographer, who shot digital, gave us conventional photo prints from the digital files, and jpegs on a CD. The Epson prints I'm getting from the jpegs are, to my eye, clearly better than the conventional photo prints.

Black & white is a different story, as it still almost always seems to be with inkjets. Other people seem to be happy with theirs, but mine seem to be coming out slightly green and a bit lacking in punch/contrast. So far this has been on my “look at one day when I get round to it” list; unfortunately it has suddenly become more urgent because the pictures Maria chose as housewarming presents for two friends of ours (who I hope won’t read this before their housewarming party on Sunday) are black & white.

So, now it’s time for me to get serious about working out whether there is in fact anything wrong with the prints the Epson is producing – and if so, what to do about it.

These, then, are working notes from a project in which Alan finds himself learning more than he ever wanted to about colour theory, printer calibration and how to use a Nikon D70 as a crude colorimeter.

Step One - print some test charts

I thought I would just run up some test files in Photoshop with bands of 100% 90%, 80% etc, grey(*), print them and see what they look like.

First discovery: RGB-to-greyscale conversion in Photoshop isn’t linear. RGB 127,127,127 gives you 57% black, not 50%. Much experimentation later, here’s the curve:

RGB to Greyscale conversion

Second discovery, made whilst messing about with the first discovery: my monitor – a Formac Gallery LCD profiled with an OptiCal Spyder – isn’t half bad. In a dark room I can see 1% greyscale steps almost right out to both ends of the scale.

Third discovery: the eye – my eye, anyway – seems to be more sensitive to subtle differences in light shades than dark.

Dark grey from black: depends on the level of room lighting. In a dark room I can just about discern 98% grey (RGB 10,10,10) from black. In daylight I can’t unless I look from an angle, not directly onto the monitor. Straight on even 96% (RGB 20,20,20) is difficult.

Light grey from white. I can discern 1% grey (RGB 254,254,254) from white in a dark room but not in daylight. 2% grey (RGB 251,251,251) is easy even in daylight.

Here are some examples. The black rectangle on the left has 98% and 96% grey rectangles in it; the white one on the right has areas of 1%, 2% and 4% grey. I can make these out in a browser on my laptop; your mileage may vary.

dark grey on black dark grey on black

Next Step: print out my DIY greyscale test charts and compare them to a standard photographer’s greycard.

Possible outcomes: I can see three possible outcomes to this whole project. (1) I discover that the printer is actually fine, and I just need to up the contrast a bit in my pictures before I print them. (2) The printer needs calibrating, and I eventually work out how to do it (or pay somebody else to do it) … or (3) I decide it’s just not worth the time and energy and buy a cheap Hewlett packard black & white printer instead (having first convinced Maria that it’s cost-justified and that I can find space on the printer shelf for it)

(*) I apologise to any American readers who might find my spelling of “grey” a constant irritation whilst reading this.

related entries: Photography

lotus without tears ii

27th April 2005 permanent link

Useful discussion going on at the moment on the ezboard ashtanga yoga discussion group on what to do with your feet in order to aovid hurting yourself while you’re learning lotus position.

I have in the past described online yoga discussion boards as “at best a case of the one-eyed leading the blind”. But I actually think this is an area where moderately experienced amateurs like me who have been through learning lotus with tight hips, and consequently had knee problems along the way, might have something to contribute that a lot of even very highly qualified and experienced teachers don’t. A lot of teachers, I think, are teachers because they start off with healthier and more flexible bodies than the average beginner, hence make rapid progress and are encouraged to think “hey, this stuff is great, why don’t I get into teaching it?”. Which is fine – but then no matter how many students they have seen, and helped, with tight hips and knee problems, they’ve never been through it themselves. And, as mentioned in the discussion, I think some of the “helping” poses that are commonly taught can be counter-productive and risky.

Sorry Michael, no tips for avoiding any of the “patience and hard work” – just how to avoid damaging your knees while you’re doing the hard work.

Lotus Without Tears Part 1, Part 3

related entries: Yoga

music, meditation and catholicism

21st April 2005 permanent link

Alex Ross, on probably the last occasion I will ever quote somebody quoting the Pope, says Herr Ratzinger (the first Bavarian pope for 950 years, and guess how long I have known that factlet?):

has said that rock music styles are incompatible with church liturgy. In 1986 he described rock music as 'the secularized variation' of an age-old type of religion in which man uses music — and drugs and alcohol — to lower 'the barriers of individuality and personality,' to liberate 'himself from the burden of consciousness. Music becomes ecstasy ... amalgamation with the universe.' This 'is the complete antithesis of the Christian faith in the redemption.'

The description seems fair enough, although the idea that rock music is somehow fundamentally different from where classical music came from seems odd; and since I am not a Christian I have no reason to care about or be bothered by the disapproving tone or the bit about the “antithesis of the Christian faith in the redemption”.

related entries: Music Yoga

currently listening to …

14th April 2005 permanent link

Kyle Gann’s Private Dances for piano. I find Gann’s weblog sometimes highly informative, sometimes irritating (and what more could one ask of a weblog?) but I hadn’t listened to any of his music before. I’m enjoying it.

related entries: Music

arild in pittsburgh

14th April 2005 permanent link

In an email conversation yesterday with Greg Sandow I learned that Arild Remmereit, the Norwegian conductor who hugely impressed me when I heard him with the Munich Philharmonic in January, is playing in Pittsburgh at the weekend. Apparently Remmereit is deputising at short notice for Christoph von Dohnanyi; folks in Pittsburgh have heard he has a rising reputation in Europe, are hugely excited that he’s coming and think this could be his big break in the States. May they be right.

If you’re in Pittsburgh and don’t have plans for the weekend – or even if you do – a concert ticket or two could be a good buy.

UPDATE: the New York Times was impressed.

UPDATED UPDATE: since there’s an email address on Mr Remmereit’s website, I though I’d send him a quick note to say I’m not in the habit of sending fan mail, but I loved the gig in Munich and congratulations on Pittsburgh. He took time out of a Seoul - New York - Seoul week to reply, thus proving that (soon to be known as) great conductors don’t have to be obnoxious prima donna maestros, but can be nice guys too.

related entries: Music

long tail

13th April 2005 permanent link

I have been tidying up my classical music collection in iTunes, as a result of which I now know that I have a total of 980 recordings of pieces of classical music by 76 different composers.

What diverse and broadly informed musical tastes I have. Ha! Beethoven single-handedly accounts for almost a quarter of my collection, 224 pieces. The top 5 – Beethoven, Mozart, Shostakovich, Haydn, Schubert – account for more than half. At the bottom of the list are twenty composers by whom I have one piece each (hello Bruch, Cherubini, Corelli, Faure, Granados …)

There’s nothing very surprising about any of this. Well, Shostakovich and Dvořák. I like some things by Shostakovich and Dvořák very much, but their presence in places three and six on my list says more about the availability of their works in large cheap boxed sets, and in Dvořák’s case their ubiquity in compilations, than about how often I actually listen to them. (Haydn will leap over Shostakovich and Mozart to second place in a single bound if I ever buy Adam Fischer’s rather good boxed set of all his 106 [?] symphonies. 33 CDs for 50 euros at my local discount CD shop)

I started listening to classical music on a regular basis a few years ago, from the basis of knowing I liked some things by Beethoven and not knowing very much about very much else. I’m working slowly outwards from there; but I’m more interested in finding things I like than in covering anybody’s idea of a balanced musical curriculum. Having said that, I do have a tendency, once I’ve heard something new and interesting, to obsess about finding the best possible recording of it – prefereably dirt cheap on ebay – rather than moving on and finding something else that I might also like. (Current obsession: Mozart’s late symphonies). Perhaps this isn’t good.

Gratuitous graphic: here’s my music collection plotted as one of those oh-so-ubiquitous Zipf distribution curves:

distribution chart

related entries: Music

beethoven week

12th April 2005 permanent link

BBC Radio 3 has a Beethoven Week in June, in which they will be playing all hundred-plus hours worth of Beethoven’s published works. I shall be making sure I have plenty of disk space free and giving Audio Hijack a thorough workout.

Only a hundred-and-something hours? The entire published output of a man who probably heard music in his head almost every waking moment? A hundred-and-something hours distilled from how many tens of thousands of hours of drafting, improvisation, rehearsals and concerts?

iTunes informs me that my music collection features over two hundred recordings of pieces of music by Beethoven. That doesn’t mean I’ve heard all hundred-plus hours of Beethoven’s published works, by any means. I have several recordings of all the string quartets and most of the piano sonatas and symphonies (including sixteen of the Eroica), and these are all worth hearing played many different ways. Whereas one recording of the Choral Fantasy is arguably one too many – except perhaps as a reminder that Beethoven, despite all the string quartets and most of the piano sonatas and symphonies, was not some kind of god-like infallible genius.

related entries: Music

cookery class

8th April 2005 permanent link

What I learned today:

Thai baby ginger shoots and thai red chillis together in the same stir fry might just be too much of a good thing. Copious amounts of sliced tomatoes, beer and plain boiled rice (consumed with the stir fry, not added to it) can retrieve the situation.

epson r800 notes

8th April 2005 permanent link

J Greely noticed that his Epson 6x4 photo printer wasn’t printing the whole of his 6x4 photos, and eventually managed to get a response from Epson support saying that this is an intentional feature: the print driver enlarges the picture slightly to avoid borders appearing if the paper alignment isn’t 100% accurate.

I noticed the same thing printing 6x4s with my R800 but hadn’t got round to investigating it further. (Non-borderless “centred” prints aren’t, quite, either. Presumably also paper misalignment). After my initial reaction – “print my whole picture, dammit!” – I have to concede that Epson do have a point.

Epson probably think – and they’re probably right – that most people printing 6x4s don’t compose their pictures carefully and won’t notice or care that the whole thing isn’t being printed. And for my purposes:

And in any case …

UPDATE: I tried sizing at 6x4 then printing at 95% for a picture that did have a crucial detail right at the bottom of the frame. I got nearly but not quite the whole bottom of the frame, with a very narrow but easily visible (about half a millimetre) right border. Getting paper alignment accurate to within a millimetre clearly isn’t doable yet on a printer at this price.

related entries: Photography

yoga curmudgeon iii

8th April 2005 permanent link

On the yoga message board I frequent, there are a couple of ultra-purists who specialise in criticising and vilifying the slightest deviation from what they say as the one pure and correct ashtanga vinyasa yoga method as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. I don’t agree with these people’s methods and tone – abusing under-qualified yoga teachers and talking down to inexperienced students are rarely constructive ways of addressing issues. I find myself increasingly, however, agreeing with what they actually have to say.

Here’s one response to somebody who posted a message basically saying that their ego had been dented because they visited another teacher’s class, and weren’t allowed to do as advanced things as they normally did with their regular teacher. This broadened into a general discussion of whether teachers should stick rigorously to the way the practice is taught in Mysore, where students are only allowed to go on to the next posture when they are capable of doing the previous one at least half-credibly; or whether it is ok for teachers to allow students who aren’t ready, to go through the entire practice series making sketchy attempts at easier versions of the things they can’t do properly. (It isn’t)

If what you mean is that everyone has their own path to finding their truth, I would agree. But I disagree regarding the practice. If I went ahead and “did my own thing” I can assure you my yoga practice would be much easier on my ego because I would skip all the hard bits. But that is not the point, is it?

If you just want to brush over the hard bits and skip along doing the bits that are easy and not stop and face what is difficult for you, it is just excercize. If that is all you are looking for, that is exactly what you will get. Same weak body, same weak mind. Whatever you practice reinforces what you practice. If you want to practice having a weak mind and a weak body, you will end up with a weaker mind and a weaker body. Congratulations!

There’s no particular reason why I should care about what somebody else is doing, especially somebody I don’t even know who is probably thousands of miles away in America. It has no bearing at all on what I do in my practice. But this resonates with my own experience – I started with a teacher who didn’t stop people when they couldn’t do things properly and (though I still like and respect the guy) I now think with hindsight it was better for my ego than for the development of my yoga practice. [Although would I have carried on going if I had had my ego seriously bruised in my first few classes? I was already pretty emotionally battered at the time; that’s why I was in a yoga class in the first place]

Now I think the way ashtanga is taught in Mysore is right: when students get to a posture they can’t do, they are stopped at that point and assisted until they can do it before they are allowed to carry on with further postures. “Do” in this context doesn’t mean “perform immaculately and effortlessly”, it generally seems to be more like “can be put into the position by a competent teacher without too much effort, and shows signs of making credible attempts on their own”.

There are exceptions. When I was in Mysore, there was one posture in the middle of the primary series that I was nowhere near being able to do on one side because of an injury. Sharath, Pattabhi Jois’s grandson and assistant, knew this and still taught me the rest of the series. I don’t think anybody in the ashtanga yoga world would question Sharath’s judgement – I certainly wouldn’t. But I still knew when I got home that filling that big hole in my practice was Priority Number One, and I’ve spent the last couple of years (minus a year off yoga practice when Jack was born) working on it. I can do it now – still with difficulty, and not every day, but in the last two weeks I only missed it in one practice. Two days ago I did it unassisted in class for the first time. (My teacher wasn’t looking). Along the way I’ve learned a great deal about patience, how progress often comes unexpectedly just when you were getting disheartened, and the anatomy of the psoas muscle.

This is all about the balance between two basic yoga principles – ahimsa, not causing harm, and tapas: dedicated, diligent effort. Ahimsa includes not hurting oneself in pursuit of some preconception of what an “advanced” yoga practice might look like; tapas implies not giving up at the slightest hint of difficulty. There’s clearly a tension between these two; B.K.S. Iyengar even describes tapas as a kind of inward-directed himsa, violence, without which outward-directed ahimsa, non-violence, isn’t possible. (I don’t particularly like that definition, but who should you pay attention to: me, or one of the most experienced senior yoga teachers in the world?). I’m clearly tending towards the tapasic end of the scale just now.

(It strikes me that sanskrit tapas is clearly from the same Indo-European root as the German tapfer: brave, courageous)

related entries: Yoga

more guest yogabloggers

7th April 2005 permanent link

I came across some excellent comments in the ezboard ashtanga yoga discussion forum, that throw some light on the topic Yannis and I were discussing a while ago – what “correct alignment” alignment in yoga postures actually means, and whether what is regarded as correct in one form (Iyengar yoga) is necessarily appropriate/relevant in another (ashtanga vinyasa yoga). One guy was of the opinion that the two forms just take different routes to the same place:

Iyengar stresses alignment from a very early stage and supports the asana with props to achieve that alignment, where Ashtanga is happy to let the student make their best attempt at the asana and then gradually come to realize alignment as they develop.

Other people pointed out, however, that it’s not as simple as there being one correct canonical form of every asana (which Iyengar-trained people often do seem to assume), and Iyengar and ashtanga yoga just take different routes to reaching it:

what may be correct in one may not be appropriate in another.

Mixing the two, attempting to force “perfect pose” into a flow system, you can injure yourself too.

related entries: Yoga

what the f*ck?

5th April 2005 permanent link

Adobe have announced Photoshop CS2 (what would, I assume, have been Photoshop 9 if they had stayed with their previous version numbering). I use Photoshop CS and it is a marvellous piece of software.


The announced price for the upgrade is $149 (US). Everybody in the photographic world knows this, and Adobe surely know that everybody knows this. And yet today, Adobe send me an email offering me the German language version (which I don’t use, and they presumably know I don’t use it because they know what version I have registered) for a bargain 288.84 Euros, or $370.16. They must be fucking insane.

This is even more blatant than the previous Euro-ripoff pricing of Photoshop CS.

I answered the mail asking what on earth they think they are playing at. I don’t expect a reply.

UPDATE 28th April: John Gruber on Adobe the once-great creative software company. And no reply to my email from Adobe Deutschland yet.

UPDATE 30th May: not only no reply to my mail, but today Adobe Deutschland had the nerve to spam me again with their “only” two and a half times the US price offer. Bastards.

related entries: Photography

just married

2nd April 2005 permanent link

just married

photo by Susan Andrews

Another two week spell of no blogging. Why? Because I was busy successfully completing my number one priority project: marry Maria. Phase One, anyway.

For various reasons my folks can’t travel for a few months, and when three weeks ago we finally got word that we had successfully completed the great paperchase that was required of us by Bavarian Bureaucracy(*), we were so happy and relieved we didn’t want to wait that long. So we had the Registry Office ceremony and had a small party with local friends last Wednesday. It’s astonishing how many wedding preparations you can actually do at short notice, provided that (a) you’re doing it midweek and (b) at least one of you can devote themselves to the job full time. We’ll still have a big party later with plenty of warning for friends from elsewhere to make travel arrangements.

More pictures to follow in a few days.

(*) I should point out that all the actual Bavarian Bureaucrats we dealt with in the course of the great paperchase were polite, friendly and very helpful. I detest having to deal with bureaucracy in any form, but this people made it as painless as it can possibly be.

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