Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A coincidence?

This is the timeline leading to a result which shocked and delighted me. See what you make of it.

October 28, 2008: Picture it. 6 months ago. October 28, 2008. Justin Buzzard, a pastor in San Francisco posts on his Blog about a plan for reading through the Bible in a year. In Oxford, England, I was changing what I was doing in my personal bible reading at the time and decide to follow his plan, which gives certain readings for each day, and if you miss a day, you just skip them, you don't "catch up". I can't remember why I was even reading his blog.

December 14, 2008: I start going out with a lovely girl called Cat. Now I should explain something to those of my friends who aren't Christian. If a Christian starts "going out" it should always mean they are coonsidering marriage - it is a time to get to know each other better, and considering if marriage is right.

May 13, 2009: Justin Taylor, another American blogger posts about a book called "The Water of the Word" about praying for your wife (even if you don't have one). I think it looks interesting so order a copy, but it is only available from Amazon in the US, so order it (and forget about it - shipping takes a long time).

June 24th 2009 10.00: I start working on my to do list for the day. I'm expecting a courier delivery, and the buzzer to my flat is broken, so I leave a note on my letter box asking the courier to call my phone if he gets no response from the buzzer.

June 24th 2009 11.00: The aforementioned lovely Cat sends me a txt message asking how my quiet time is going. Again, let me explain the jargon. It is common for Christians to spend some time each day on their own reading the Bible, and praying, in response to Jesus in Matt 6:6. This is often called a "quiet time" as it is quicker to say than "personal time of bible reading and prayer".

All strands join together

June 24th 2009 11.00: I had been slow in getting started so start reading. The verses for the day from the Bible in a Year plan are 1 Corinthians 7:1-19 and Psalms 116, 117, and 118.

I start reading the 1 Corinthians sections and it is a passage all about marriage.

Just then the phone goes and it is the postman (not the courier, who I'm still waiting for). He has a parcel which won't fit in the letter box. I go down and get it, and it is the book I had ordered 6 weeks before, about praying for a wife (which you may or may not have).

I decide to read a bit. I read the Preface, which is all about praying as you read through the Bible.

I read the first prayer which is based on Psalms 116, 118, and 121, two of which are the very Psalms I was going to be reading that day.

Coincidences (in the sense of the word meaning things which happened together):
  • The book on prayer for a wife arrived on exactly the same day nas I was reading a bible passage about marriage.
  • In fact it happened at the same time, on the same day.
  • Which happened after Cat reminded me to spend time reading the bible and praying
  • And the first prayer was based on 2 of the three Psalms I was looking at, also on exactly the same day
  • And I was actually at home that day rather than out at work
  • And because I was expecting a courier, I had left a note out, so the book actually got delivered rather than going back to the sorting office
  • And I was expecting a courier because I was expecting a wedding gift for another couple to be delivered
  • And I hadn't chosen the passages, they were from going through the whole Bible linearly (Old Testament and New Testament) in a year, form a scheme starting 6 months before.
I know a lot of my atheist friends will argue convincingly that I should look at all the coincidences that didn't happen, and it was nothing special. Now, I've got a degree in Mathematics and Computation from Oxford, and work in proprietary trading in investment banking, using Mathematical and Statistical market models. I'm fairly happy with statistics. And I know it could be a coincidence, I won't claim otherwise - but my response to it all? It has to be the Psalm that wasn't in the prayer, Psalm 117:

Psalm 117 (in it's entirety)

1 Praise the LORD, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.

2 For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

How to spin in modern jive

I originally wrote this for a friend of a friend who was just starting at Ceroc. The mutual friend came back saying it was so helpful that the new dancer was almost spinning better than her, so I thought I would share it.

How to spin in modern jive

Spinning is one of the most common difficulties for ladies in Modern Jive (ceroc/leroc/mojive ...) but it often doesn't get taught in beginners classes, so a lot of people, both guys and girls have trouble with it. Here are a few suggestions that might help - they are put together from suggestions in classes over the years from a lot of teachers in dances including modern jive, street dance, jazz and swing. I've especially appreciated classes from Nina Daines and Nickely Burke on this in the past, so big thanks to them.

The key to all the tips below is practice. My street dance teacher used to start every class with a warm up which included a sequence of left and right single and double spins. Getting it ingrained in your muscle memory, even for good dancers is the key.

The first thing is to identify the problem that you are having. This might be:
  1. Travelling (moving) when you don't intend to, rather than spinning on the spot
  2. Wobbling when you spin
  3. Getting really dizzy
  4. Not being able to get round as often as you want to (for double, triple spins etc.)

The most common mistake, which can cause wobbling, travelling and dizziness is looking down. When you do this, your head moves off centre, and your head is a really heavy part of your body. All of the weight being off centre starts you travelling, and if you try and correct can lead to wobbling.

So the most important thing you can do is practice keeping your head up. The best way of doing this is to pick a spot on a wall slightly above eye level and practice spinning while looking at the spot. This forces you to keep your head up, and your eyes open, which with practice solves a lot of problems. Ideally you want your head, neck, spine, hips, and the ball of the foot you are spinning on to all be in one completely vertical straight line. Keeping your head up will nearly always get you in this position.

The next most common mistake is trying too hard. People think they need to spin really quickly so throw themselves far too hard into it, which then throws them off balance. When you are practising, and even while dancing, try and spin gently. You normally have two beats for a spin, which is usually enough for a triple spin, so concentrate on making your single spins slow, smooth and controlled, rather than trying to whip around.

My little spinning exercise goes like this. First think about a spin to the right.

The Preparation

(this is a lot easier to show than to explain in writing)

  1. Step forward with a small step onto your right foot, bending your knees slightly so your weight is down.
  2. Bring your left arm straight out to the left, and your right arm bent in front of you to the left slightly below shoulder height (like a figure skater preparing to spin).
  3. Then in one smooth movement bring your weight forward and up, as you slide your left foot together to your right foot, and bring your hands so they are central in front of you. At this point you should have your feet together, your head up, all the weight on the ball of your right foot, and your head and body in a nice straight line to a balanced position, with your hands palms down, slightly separate just in front of your chest. Don't spin yet - just practice this movement, making sure your feet slide together and you are balanced. The most common mistake here is lifting your left foot up your leg or leaving your leg sticking out.
  4. Now try the same but mirror imaged onto your left foot. Practice both of these until you naturally move up into a balanced position on either foot.

The Spin

  1. Do exactly what you did for the preparation, but bring your left arm in a little bitfaster, and let the momentum start to carry you round. Concentrate on keeping your head up. For the moment, don't worry about getting all the way around, a half or even quarter turn is fine, smoothness and balance is the key.
  2. When you start to stop turning, bend your knees (a little bit) again and lower your heel to stop. Check your feet are still together.
  3. As you get more confident, bring your arm in faster, and spin a bit further round. If you ever get to where you are wobbling, slow down again, and spin less quickly and less far.
  4. Once you are back on balance consistently speed it up again.

Again, practice doing this taking turns on either foot. This will mean you'll be able to spin both ways, and will stop you getting too dizzy when you practice.


Once you are confident with single spins you want to practice spotting. This both stops you getting so dizzy, and lets your neck muscles give you extra momentum.

  1. To see what spotting is like, look at a single spot, just above eye height.
  2. Now start to shuffle round a spin, keeping your head looking at that one spot. You should be able to shuffle your feet about half way round a turn, and your body slightly less while your head looks at the spot.
  3. When you can't move any more, bring your head around a whole turn so you are looking back at the spot. So there is only a short time while your head is looking away. When you are dancing this spot will normally be your partner.
  4. Do the spinning exercise as before, to the left and right, but a bit slower than you were before and with spotting this time.

Double, triple spins etc.

I'm not that great at these, but I have a couple of tips.

Firstly, to do doubles your singles need to be rock solid. If you can't do a single spin consistently with no wobble then by the time you get twice round you'll be half way across the room. So make sure your basics are really solid.

Secondly, sometimes it is just a confidence issue. This is likely to be the case if you can always get one and 3-quarter turns but can never get two. In this case, I recommend trying for a triple - often you will do a perfect double and fall over on the triple, but you got the double! Once you realise you can do doubles (or triples) or whatever, then it is just a matter of smoothing them out.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gifts of knowledge and teaching are separate

I was reading Systematic Theology[1] and something struck me I have never seen before. Gifts of knowledge and gifts of speech are separate. Forgive my slowness, for it seems obvious in retrospect. Someone can have huge understanding, but no teaching ability, or huge teaching ability and no understanding. And unfortunately we tend to equate the two.

Why unfortunately? This leads to problems when we assume that teaching ability is the same as understanding. Who have you learnt most from? It has probably been those with most teaching ability but not necessarily the most wisdom. We learn our understanding of God moderated through the most entertaining preachers (and now bloggers), and get our knowledge of cars and motoring from Jeremy Clarkson. At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, the supreme example of someone who could teach without wisdom was Adolf Hitler. Or perhaps more controversially Plato (Moron). His arguments are weak enough every first year Philosophy student can find flaws in them, but he does write well.

This led me to a deeper understanding of James 3:1-2. Do pray for those with the gift of teaching. People (including me) will listen and believe almost whatever they teach, and if they lead little ones astray the consequences are severe.

Now I wonder how do we find those who have gifts of wisdom without gifts of teaching? To learn about programming I read entertaining and informative programming blogs like Jeff Atwood's, but if I want to find programmers gifted with knowledge who don't communicate well, then I look for impressive programs and find out who wrote them. Know them by their fruit.

The same should happen in church. I should seek out those people whose godliness I admire, and if they aren't the best teachers I should just be a better learner.

[1] Chapter 52, page 1021

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What I want ... a digital filing cabinet

I have a dream. And so does Mark Dalton. And so do lots of people when you search for this. And hopefully by sharing it, someone will come to my rescue and make the world a better place. 
What is this huge dream .... ? It's a filing cabinet that does everything for you. 
I have too many old bills and letters that I don't want to throw away, but have no space in my filing cabinet. Having decided that keeping them in paper form was too inefficient I decided to scan them but this is so slow I put it off. Let me go through the process so you feel my pain.

Plug in the scanner (I can't leave it plugged in because it seems to interfere with my boot sequence).
Wait for the Lexmark software to notice it.
Pick up a bill (2 sheets).
Open the lid.
Put sheet 1 on the scanner. 
Carefully manually line it up with the glass.
Close the lid.
Go to "scan" in the software.
Choose advanced settings.
Choose "scan as A4".
Choose "more than one page".
Choose OCR.
Click OK.
Choose "send scanned image to file".
Click Scan Now.
In the file dialog choose type PDF (because it forgets this is what I always choose).
Choose my USB drive (because it always defaults to "my documents" on the C drive)
Click through to an appropriate directory.
Choose a file name (which probably involves taking off the scanner so I can check the date and add it to the file name). Put back on scanner, close lid.
Sit and wait while it scans (only 30s, but not much else I can do).
Open lid.
Remove page, and place on the floor for recycling or shredding.
Place page 2 carefully on the glass.
Close lid.
Click scan now.
Wait again. another 30s.
Open lid.
Remove page.
Close lid.
Click "No I don't want any more pages".
Wait for OCR to complete.
Stop typing this blog post while Abbyy FineReader (OCR software) steals my keyboard focus.
Hope I haven't typed anything that would interrupt the OCR process.
Breathe a sigh, and wish I had that 3 minutes of my life back, and decide I'll put off scanning the rest of a pile for another day.

You probably didn't want to read that, but I didn't want to do it. Lots of these steps could be improved in small ways but let me dream the big dream.
Imagine a box the size of a laptop, with something like the lid of a professional photocopier on top, but it only needs to be A4 size. I walk up to it, put the document on the feeder, and hit a big green button. All the sheets feed through the feeder in a second or two, and I either walk away leaving it in the "to be recycled" pile or collect it and shred it.
The machine scans it both sides at maximum resolution and in colour, after all storage is free, and saves it to the hard drive as an incoming image. Maybe from my fingerprint on the button it knows it is me scanning it. Then in the background a number of things happen. After all, this box is idle most of the time. 
It runs the document through OCR. It auto rotates it to the correct orientation, even sorting out pages I fed through upside down or back to front. 
It works out from this if it seems to be more appropriate to be a photo (JPEG) or PDF. If JPEG it adds appropriate tags from the date of scanning, and maybe some image recognition. If a PDF, it merges the OCR text and image together and stores to the hard drive. 
The built in google desktop like functionality in the box indexes it. It also does "more like this" analysis similar to google images and google web. 
It then encrypts it to store it, so if the machine gets broken into I don't lose confidential information, like I would with a filing cabinet. They key is securely stored with my password, but optionally recoverable depending whether I think the risk of forgetting or the risk of the service being compromised is greater. The input queue is then securely wiped of the original.
It connects to a free online digital signing service (through it's wireless network connection to my home network) and signs the document with the date, so I can prove in court I had it when I scanned it.
Most importantly, I don't have to wait.
Later on I come back and want to find my bill. I connect to the machine from my laptop. Did I mention the cabinet connects wirelessly to my home network seamlessly. I go to its web interface (secured appropriately), and look for "gas bill". 
It finds a number and presents them in chronological order, most recent first. 
And also offers "more like these" functionality. However it does it I can always find my document. I can tag it with tags, like I can with my gmail to make sorting easier, but I don't really need to.
If I'm worried about the hard drive, I can synchronize it with a directory on my laptop. Or stick a DVD-R or CD-R into the box's built in drive which automatically burns me a backup copy. Which I can restore from seamlessly if I need to replace the drive, and it merges in, not overwrites.
But most of the time all I do is stick in some sheets and press a button.
Google, Canon, Lexmark, Xerox, Apple - where are you? When can I have one? All of this functionality already exists, it just needs a good designer(are you listening Jonathan Ive?) to stick it all together.

This post deserves a confession. I had a previous job working for a Canon research lab in Human Computer Interaction. Why didn't I think of this then?