alan little’s weblog archive for march 2005

lord of light

21st March 2005 permanent link

If the world were all city … the dwellers within it would turn a portion of it into a wilderness , for there is that within them all which desires that somewhere there be an end to order and a beginning of chaos.

Space Opera is all very well – although I found Charlie Stross’s Iron Sunrise, the sequel to Singularity Sky, disappointing – but from time to time you need to read a real novel. For which purpose Roger Zelazny's 1967 classic Lord of Light is serving me admirably at the moment. I’m sure somebody whose blog I read put me on to this one; I apologise to whoever it was for the lack of a link, because I can’t find or remember who you were just now.

related entries: Yoga

saturday family life vignette

19th March 2005 permanent link

Yesterday: Jack and I spend two hours at the gym in the morning – toddlers’ gymnastics class. I wish we had had those when I was small. Get home at 11:30; Jack bursting with energy, can’t be persuaded to go to sleep for his afternoon nap until 3 o’clock.

Today: Jack and I go shopping with Maria. We visit a grand total of three shops: a jeweller’s (wedding rings), an art bookshop (putting the idea into Maria’s head that I might find a book of photographs by Andreas Gursky a most acceptable birthday present), a shoe shop (wedding shoes: I buy the first pair I see, Maria scours the entire shop and comes away empty-handed. Or barefoot.) We get home at one o'clock, eat lunch then collapse exhausted.

yoga curmudgeon ii

17th March 2005 permanent link

I was visiting family and friends in England for most of the last week, far to busy with seeing people I haven’t seen for too long to have any time for writing anything.

One thing that did strike me though: when I’m in England I like to browse bookshops. Amazon in Germany can get me any English language books I know I want, but what about the ones I don’t know I want? There’s no serendipity there. In Waterstones on Deansgate in Manchester there’s plenty. I spent a happy ten minutes in Photography being amazed by the work of Ferdinando Scianna, then wandered over to Yoga.

Seven years or so ago, when I still lived in Manchester and had just taken up yoga, the Waterstones yoga “section” consisted of about a dozen books. Now it’s four whole shelves. Some of the ones I did recognise are good and serious books: BKS Iyengar’s classic Light on Yoga; Pattabhi Jois’s Yoga Mala, which I didn’t even now was out in a mass market paperback edition (and I don’t need it because – ha! – I have an autographed hardback copy of the first English language edition); David Coulter’s Anatomy of Hatha Yoga – have I ever mentioned that this excellent book is a must-read for anybody who’s serious about their yoga practice? Yes? Good. I’m sure some of the books I didn’t recognise are good any worthwhile too. But not all of them.

There were, for example, at least four books on ashtanga yoga. None of them by properly authorised teachers; and in any case, there really isn’t that much to say about ashtanga yoga. It deliberately eschews a lot of explicit theory and philosophy in favour a “just do the practice and see what happens” approach, and the practice you are supposed to follow is completely standardised. So why would the world need lots of books with pictures of different people doing the same practice series?

[I, hypocritically, have four such books. At least mine, unlike the ones in Waterstones, are all by highly qualified senior teachers]

(One of the ashtanga books was co-authored by somebody I met in Mysore who I know is a dedicated and serious yoga practitioner even though s/he isn’t an authorised ashtanga teacher (yet?). I don’t doubt this person’s motives and seriousness. Their book had the best pictures too.)

I suppose I should be glad to see this level of interest in yoga, and to a degree I am. But four shelves of books, most of which have little or nothing to add to what has already been said, are a sure sign of people rushing to cash in on a bubble. The current yoga fad won’t last, real yoga is hard, and people publishing me-too yoga books – like the legions of well-intentioned but inexperienced and underqualified people rushing into teacher training courses – will be left high and dry when it ends.

I might be wrong and even if I’m not, some of the people who start doing yoga because it’s fashionable will find themselves gradually taking it more seriously and having their lives changed for the better by it, which is a Good Thing.

related entries: Yoga

wish i was there (2)

16th March 2005 permanent link

Looking through my referrer logs for last month, I discovered this page with lots of pictures of Mysore, including one of mine. Good for getting a feel for what the place looks like from a non-yoga-student perspective.

morning light, mysore

morning light after yoga class, mysore

It’s rude to use other peoples’ pictures in this way without permission. But the one they’re using is one of my favourite atmospheric Indian street photos, and they’re not sucking up that much of my bandwidth, so I’ve decided to just be happy that a few more people are looking at my picture than would otherwise.

Various commenters on the page talk about delayed plans to build a Bangalore-Mysore expressway, and about Mysore becoming a satellite city for the Bangalore tech industry. At the moment the physical transport infrastructure in Mysore (like practically everywhere else in India) is a joke for a modern, high tech economy. Mysore is only a hundred miles from Bangalore but the journey takes three to four hours by road and there’s only one “fast” (still over two hours) train a day. Internet connectivity is good, but there comes a time sooner or later on every project where you want to get people face to face in a room. Mysore won’t be able to function effectively as a high tech satellite of Bangalore until it’s possible to do the round trip in a day without being completely knackered at the end of it.

On the other hand, if you’re not trying to run projects and have meetings you might legitimately question whether Mysore getting sucked into the orbit of Bangalore would necessarily be a Good Thing. It would of course be great for people who own land in or around Mysore that might be suitable for building office parks; people with the relevant qualifications who think they would prefer to live in pleasant, laid back Mysore instead of the traffic-crazed overpriced metropolis of Bangalore might also mistakenly think it was a good idea, until Mysore too turned into a traffic-crazed overpriced metropolis. Which would be a shame, because at the moment it’s a nice place.

Makes me wish I was there.

related entries: Yoga

the price of freedom

9th March 2005 permanent link

On the other hand, sometimes installing open source software does require hours of fiddling about with editors and C compilers, but that isn’t always the fault of the people who wrote it.

Now I have MySQL and Postgres working. I don’t have Oracle yet but will soon, one way or another. The next thing I need is python connectors for all these databases. MySQLDB didn’t work on the Mac the last time I tried it, but now I discover it does. That’s nice. Everybody’s favourite Postgresql connector seems to be pyscopg, so I download that; and everybody’s favourite Oracle connector seems to be cx_Oracle so I download that too.

Both psycopg and cx_oOracle, however, need a third party date/time formatting library, Marc André Lemburg’s mxDateTime (because, apparently, the built-in facilities in python weren’t good enough at the time when they were orginally written). I download mxDateTime, which appears to build and install successfully, but then crashes python when I try to import it:

Python 2.3 (#1, Sep 13 2003, 00:49:11) 
[GCC 3.3 20030304 (Apple Computer, Inc. build 1495)] on darwin
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> import mx.DateTime
Fatal Python error: Interpreter not initialized (version mismatch?)

I post a cry for help on comp.lang.python, where I have always found people to be super friendly and knowledgeable, and get answers that suggest the problem is a bug in Apple’s standard installation of python 2.3. So now I must upgrade python, following these non-trivial looking instructions. Say bye bye to another afternoon.

Incidentally, Guido says that database drivers having this dependency on a third party library is an undesirable bit of legacy:

I would like the spec to change to require new versions of db API compatible modules to fully support the built-in datetime type, at least when used with Python 2.4 and beyond. The spec current recommends use of a 3rd party date/time type, which was a good idea back when there was no built-in alternative, but which should gradually be phased out now that there is.

Having to fiddle about with too many dependencies (especially when you happen to be trying to develop on a platform where one of your key dependencies doesn’t actually work, for whatever reason) is a major drag on productivity. Which takes us back to the key thing I don’t like about python: it’s no good having a super-productive language if all the time you save on typing code is wasted faffing about with the environment instead of getting more done.

The price of freedom is … eternal fiddling about with incompatible versions of odd little bits of software.

Hopefully this is just start-up cost and once I do finally get a working environment together everything will be lovely.

related entries: Programming

a tale of three databases

9th March 2005 permanent link

Installing open source software often requires hours of fiddling about with editors and C compilers, whereas big-name commercial software generally has slick packaging including reliable and easy-to-use installers. Right?

Well …

For my project I needed to install up to date versions of Oracle, plus one or two other databases for comparison and testing purposes.

I started with MySQL. MySQL provides a readymade mac installer package. I download and run it; it appears to have worked. But then when I go in to set up my development database it tells me ERROR 1044 (42000): Access denied for user ''@'localhost' to database 'mysql'. I suspect that something is wrong with the setup of the mysql configuration database; but then after half an hour or so of googling and looking around, I realise that the problem is that I haven’t used MySQL for over a year and I’ve forgotten that you have to go in for the first time as its root user to set up other users and databases. From which point on everything is fine.

Time to set up MySQL: forty minutes, thirty of which are my own fault.

I’ve always been curious about Postgresql, partly because it has a reputation as the most industrial strength of the open source databases, and partly because I worked for years with Ingres, which was quite good in its day, and Postgresql was the next project by same guy, Professor Mike Stonebraker. Marc Liyanage provides a Mac installer for Postgres, but this time I decide there is no harm in a bit of fiddling about with C compilers, so I decide to try downloading it from source and building it myself following these intructions here. This also takes forty minutes of downloading stuff, setting options and watching messages from configure and make scroll by, at the end of which everything works first time.

Time to set up Postgresql, voluntarily building from source instead of installing a package: again forty minutes.

Nicely warmed up and on to Oracle, which after all is the real object of the exercise. Sergio Leunissen offers instructions for installing Oracle on the Mac that look promising, although the process itself is ugly. It involves setting up users and directories by hand first, then running a (typically ugly and amateurish-looking for a cross-platform java gui) java gui installer, which walks you through a long process in the course of which you have to go off back to the command line and run shell scripts a couple of times. All very messsy, strange and neither one thing nor the other. If you’re going to provide a gui installer, then why not provide one that does the whole job? On the other hand, why provide one at all when 99% of your users for this part of the proceedings are professional DBAs who probably prefer to run scripts anyway?

I may have made a couple of fatal mistakes here. The first was attempting to install Oracle in a directory which had a space in the path name, which it didn’t like, and then renaming the volume underneath the installer while it was still running in an attempt not to have to abort the installation and start again from scratch. The installer then ran through, reporting lots of warnings and build failures but still claiming success at the end of the day. I’m sceptical but still try to fire up SQLPlus to see what I've got. SQLPLus says it needs one of the libraries that reported a build failure, and dies. My next big mistake is trying to delete the installation from the command line and start again instead of running the nasty gui installer and selecting uninstall. When I realise that that’s what I should try to do instead I try it, but the nasty gui installer says it can’t find one of the directories I deleted (whose name it clearly has lurking in some hard-to-find config file somewhere) and refuses to go on.

Time to fail to install Oracle: several hours. Admittedly some of this may have been due to my own mistakes, but even if it had gone smoothly it would have been at least a couple of hours of fiddling about. My next move: attempt a clean installation on my Powerbook, and/or put it on my Linux web server where is might feel a bit more at home. I’m curious to find out how I’m supposed to go about running the nasty java installer gui over ssh though.

(Note to prospective employers/clients who may one day read this: I do know what I’m doing with Oracle once it is up and running. I’ve just never had to install it from scratch – up until now I’ve always worked with it in places where I had DBAs to do that for me. One might also object that MySQL only does 20% of what Oracle does, so of course it’s easier to install, and I wouldn’t dispute that: the obvious danger for Oracle is that that makes it 80% as useful in many situations)

deutsche musik

6th March 2005 permanent link

Is the German music market less global than the German movie market? Are music markets generally? Last night Maria and I watched a German all-time chart show. (We don’t get out much. We have a toddler instead). Ranking was according to some kind of complicated scoring system based on time spent in the album charts, e.g. ten points per week at number one. Like the cinema chart we saw this time last year, the winner came as a huge surprise to both of us – although this time surprising only for surprisingness, not for the surprisingly good artistic taste of the German public.

We got to number two. Peter Maffay – a big-name German artist. All the other obvious big name German artists had been and gone, as had the Beatles and the Stones. Who could it be? Long, long advert break. I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and it struck me. Of course. Who could it be but Elvis? It wasn’t Elvis (I checked - number 94. Perhaps the peak of his career pre-dates the start of German album charts) We nearly fell off the sofa when instead it was:

1James LastGerman, real name Hans Last
2Peter MaffayBorn in Rumania. Family moved to Germany when he was in his teens. Forty years on, still speaks German with a slight but noticeable foreign accent
3AbbaSwedish, mostly.
4Deep PurpleBritish
5Herbert GrönemeyerGerman
6The BeatlesBritish
7Phil CollinsBritish
9Pink FloydBritish

Four local artists (Peter Maffay is to all intents and purposes German), five British, one Scandinavian. Not an American in sight.

currently listening to ...

1st March 2005 permanent link

Till Fellner’s recording of the piano sonata in B flat minor by Julius Reubke. Julius who? Pupil of Liszt, apparently, and this not half bad piece of music is quite reminiscent of, though not quite as stunning as, Liszt’s own sonata. It seems Reubke wrote his at about the same time, although it wasn’t published until much later. (Thank you, decent liner notes on the Apex label).

I was curious about Till Fellner because music critic and blogger Alex Ross loves his recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. And I was curious about Schumann because I’ve heard very little of him and not been impressed by what I have heard (couple of the symphonies), but people say “ah, but you should hear his piano music”.

So when I saw this disc by Fellner, with Schumann’s Kreisleriana together with a sonata by some guy I had never heard of, it seemed worth gambling 4 euros on it. Good bet.

Update: I notice Brian Micklethwait was ahead of me on this one.

related entries: Music

been & gone

1st March 2005 permanent link

I was in the camera shop today. (Hey, I didn’t go out with the intention of going to the camera shop. I mean, Jack gave the keyboard a cup of tea, and after three days drying out it still hadn’t recovered, so I had to go to the Apple shop. And the Apple shop is just across the road from the camera shop, and there’s no harm in just having a little look? Right?)


I was in the camera shop today, and they said their first shipments of Nikon’s new flagship the D2X – which I can’t even think about affording at the moment, maybe in a year or two – and the Tokina 12-24mm zoom lens – which I am seriously interested in, the 18-70mm on the D70 just isn’t quite wide enough – have already been and gone.

related entries: Photography

sabotaged mountain

1st March 2005 permanent link

The local news was really local when Jack & I switched the TV on last night – the first thing we saw was a picture of a kid on a red sledge on Jack’s Mountain. Apparently unknown Spielverderber (killjoys, but I like the German word) had tried to sabotage the snow by spreading salt. Three nights in a row of temperatures in the mid-minus-twenties (celsius) have thwarted their efforts so far. The man from the city parks department was doing a pretty good job of keeping a straight face as he explained that samples of the salt had been sent off for analysis, but they didn’t have much actual hope of catching the culprits.

I must admit when I first saw the picture of the kid sledging, I expected some tedious nanny-state story about how some kid had broken her arm or twisted her ankle or something, and therefore sledging is hideously dangerous and everybody should wear helmets or have airbag-equipped sledges or some such ridiculous bullshit. But in fairness to Bavarians, although they are generally in favour of far too many other aspects of nanny-statism they are absolutely clear on the inviolable human right to hurl oneself down mountains in any way one sees fit.

(See also: autobahns. My British upbringing means I will probably never feel completely comfortable overtaking police cars at 120 plus miles per hour, but they never seem to mind.)

See also: one of my favourite winter places from my pre-fatherhood days. A little village in the Austrian Tirol where the main nightlife happens in a tiny bar way up the mountain, and once you’ve had enough drinks the standard way down is an icy toboggan run featuring a vertical banked turn and regular mass pile ups when some not-drunk-enough punter loses their nerve and tries to brake. Feel free to send me hundreds of emails citing examples that prove me wrong, but somehow I just can’t imagine this sort of thing going on in America, land of the free. They’d be too scared somebody might sue somebody.

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