lethargic_man: (Default)
2017-05-27 11:20 pm

The Long Night of Religions

Six years ago, I put on my list of things to do before I turned forty attending a service of another religion (other than Christianity); but it remained not done well into my forties, because I didn't have the contacts to achieve this. (Actually, I suppose if I'd really wanted, I could have used work colleagues as entry points, but didn't.)

Then last week [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m got me off my tochus (and overcame my fear of not understanding enough German*) to participate in the Long Night of Religions, in which different religions open the doors of their houses of worship up to the public.

This is such a good idea; I look forward to exploring other religions in subsequent years, but if I just say that I came back not just edified but very well fed, can you guess which religion's house of worship I ended up attending?

* I prepared for only understanding two-thirds of what I might hear by reading up on the religion I chose in advance. I'd guess my poorer German at the time is the reason why I didn't take advantage of this last year.
lethargic_man: (Berlin)
2017-05-01 11:32 am

Changes in Berlin seen from an old map

When Laurie WinoDW gave me my birthday present, he wrapped it in a (reprint of an) old map of Berlin (that seems to have been intended for use as wrapping paper). Me being me, I opened the present carefully, ironed out the creases in the map, then put it on my wall.

View map )

The map seems to date from around 1930; among the differences it shows from the present is that one of the canals I cycle along on the way to work, the Neuköllner Schifffahrtskanal, is reduced to a mere ditch, the Wiesen Graben, which, instead of connecting to the Landwehrkanal at its western end, originates instead at a pool labelled Wiesen Br[?unnen].

This is interesting, because the curve where the former bank of the Landwehrkanal ran, and where it now turns into the Schifffahrtskanal, is precisely the point where the iced-over section of the canal (i.e. the Schifffahrtskanal, but not at all the Landwehrkanal, which I didn't until I got this map realise was even a separate canal) began last winter.

I still don't know the reason why. Maybe the Schifffahrtskanal is shallower; maybe there's less flow along it.

You can see other interesting differences in the bit of map I'm posting here: present-day Sonnenallee and Karl-Marx-Straße were then Kaiser Friedrich Straße and Berliner Straße; the interesting thing about the latter of these is that it was in _west_ Berlin, i.e. it wasn't the communists who renamed the street after Marx!

(The other notable difference that you can't see on this segment of map is that there were lots more synagogues than there are today. :-()

I wonder what the lack of grey for built-up areas towards the outskirts of the city mean. Surely they couldn't have laid out so many streets with no houses yet? And surely Berlin can't have grown so much since just 1930?
lethargic_man: (Default)
2017-03-29 10:09 pm

Blue sky

About ten years ago, [livejournal.com profile] compilerbitch posted a photo she had taken of [livejournal.com profile] doseybat leaning on a balcony and looking out over... a seascape, I think. It was black-and-white and had a grim look to it. Then I happened to see the colour original, and was astonished at the psychological effect the blue sky in it had on the feeling of the photo.

That gave rise to an Idea (which, like all of my best ideas, sat around in the back of my mind for years before becoming reality), of making a similar photo, in which like clouds drifting past, patches would drift across the photo, only these would be patches of full colour on a greyscale background; and then eventually one would come that was large enough to encapsulate most of the photo and bring life to it before departing again.

Doing this idea proper justice, i.e. at a high enough frame rate to look smooth, would involve convolution matrices and be at the limit of my technical ability. It would also involve more time than I am going to have this side of my wedding; so here, to give you a taster for what it would be (and probably scratch my itch enough that the full thing never happens now) is the work of most of an evening instead:

See piccy )

lethargic_man: (Default)
2017-03-23 08:44 pm

Rabbit emails

The addition of coloured emojis to the Unicode character set makes it easier for our less literate rabbit friends to send emails...

View piccy )

lethargic_man: (beardy)
2017-03-23 07:32 pm


I couldn't resist getting one of these as a little present for my father-in-troth Florin:


(A florin, for those who don't know, was a two-shilling British coin; at the time I was growing up predecimal one and two shilling coins were still in circulation as 5p and 10p coins (this continued until these coins were replaced with smaller ones in 1992), but I had to go back to older ones to find one with the word "florin" on it.)

lethargic_man: (beardy)
2017-03-22 10:28 pm

Rabbit chuppah!

Thanks to the talented Sarah Behrnd, the rabbits are now more prepared to get married than we are! —Thanks, Sarah!

View piccy )

lethargic_man: (Default)
2017-03-08 08:39 pm

Ding dong

A little daily ritual in the [personal profile] lethargic_man/[livejournal.com profile] aviva_m household (featuring Ginger the rabbit, so-named because she arrived in the household at the same time as Fred the fish).

Link to video on Facebook.
lethargic_man: (Default)
2017-02-28 10:01 pm

Arnie plays Beethoven

[livejournal.com profile] aviva_m and I were in the Beethoven Museum in Bonn last weekend (in the house where Beethoven spent his first four years—it's the only house he lived that still exists)—and my parents-in-troth got us this beautiful little piano music box as a souvenir.

Arnie the rabbit seems to have really taken to it; I don't know where he learned to play so well!

See video (I don't think I can embed this).

...although possibly this explains something:View piccy )Right, that's enough excitement for one evening; time for bed:View piccy )
lethargic_man: (Default)
2017-02-26 11:11 am


For the benefit of the few people who are friends of mine here but not also on Facebook, [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m and I got engaged on Saturday a week ago.


lethargic_man: (computer geekery)
2017-01-31 12:34 pm

Transferring music to an iPod from XFCE on Ubuntu Linux

Those who know me might be shocked to here that a little while ago I got an iPod (iPod Touch 4th generation), as a cast-off from [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's parents. However, I'm having difficulty transferring music onto it. Simply copying it onto the iPod isn't enough; you've got to do something else to make the iPod aware of it.

The Net of a Million Lies says a program called gtkpod will do the job for me, on my desktop running XFCE on Ubuntu Linux. However, this seems to rely on the iPod's filesystem being mounted as a regular directory; and this is not (no longer?) the case in the current version of XFCE. It automatically mounts two sub-areas of the iPod filesystem, but not under /media; and in any case gtkpod seems to want the whole filesystem mounted. I've managed to get the filesystem mounted with a truly horrible hack, but gtkpod is still not playing ball.

Has anyone managed to transfer music to an iPod from recent versions of Ubuntu, and if so, how did you do it?
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
2017-01-15 12:34 pm

Why "love" has an O, why "coney" dropped out of use, and why English has "earl", not "count"

Here's a cool thing I learned a few months ago: Have you ever wondered about the prevalence of words in English spelled with an O but pronounced as if it were U; words like "son", "money" (and "honey"), "love" (and "dove"), "wonder", "London", and I suspect once upon a time, also "coney"*? What they all share in common is that the O is next to an M, N, V or W; and the reason for this spelling is that when a U is juxtaposed to one of these letters in Carolingian miniscules, it becomes very difficult to tell which letter is which, as is famously shown by writing the word "minimum" in miniscules:


Consequently, the spelling of the English words was changed to use an O instead of a U, which made life easier for readers a thousand years ago, though more difficult for people trying to learn English spelling. It's amazing how much insight knowing this has given me on English spelling; I keep coming across more and more words the spelling of which this explains.

* "Coney" used to be in general use in English to mean "rabbit". (The German for "rabbit", Kaninchen, rendered piecewise into its English cognates, comes out as the cutesy "coneykin".) But when in the nineteenth century "cunny" arose as slang for "c*nt", which was the pronunciation at the time of "coney", the latter dropped out use, despite an attempt to rescue it by pronouncing it the way it was written, in favour of the term "rabbit", originally meaning a young rabbit.

On a similar subject, I recently discovered from the History of English podcast the reason why we have in England, counties and countesses but not counts. These terms were brought into English from Norman French after the Norman Conquest, displacing the older English terms, but "count" never quite managed to displace "earl" because its pronunciation was too much like "c*nt". I reckon at the time, the former would have had the vowel in "food" and the latter the vowel in "good", making them more similar than they are today.

I wonder if there are any other words that resemblance to taboo words forced out of the language...
lethargic_man: (Default)
2017-01-10 01:12 pm

The Lost Songs of St Kilda

Some of you may recall my posting here before about my (casual) interest in St Kilda, the most remote once-inhabited archipelago of the British Isles. I possibly first came across it when I first discovered and went exploring on Google Maps (an interesting post to reread, as it reminds us what online maps were like in the days before Google Maps). My interest piqued, I went off and read about it on Wikipedia; and so was intrigued enough to watch (and buy) and review Michael Powell's fictionalised film about the evacuation of St Kilda, The Edge of the World (which, strangely enough, didn't involve vampires).

After all this, you will not be surprised to hear that when, last year, an album of music came out called The Lost Songs of St Kilda, I was intrigued, and asked [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m to get it for me for Chanukah. The story is that a decade ago, an old man, Trevor Morisson, was discovered playing this music on a piano in an old age home in Scotland. He'd been evacuated to the isle of Bute during the War, and had there been taught by one of the St Kildans who left during the islands' final evacuation in 1930 how to play the melodies sung by the islanders as they climbed the cliffs looking for birds' eggs.

No one else had recorded this music, no one had written it down; to my surprise it seems that none of the St Kildans (the last of whom died just last year) had even taught it to their children. (The fact the St Kildan church frowned upon music may have had something to do with this, at a guess.) If it were not for Trevor Morisson, this subculture would have died out completely (rather than just partially—Morisson only knew eight songs, and did not know the words to them).

Yet now, after eighty-six years, a young man's recordings of Morisson (made on a laptop with a £3 microphone) have been released to the world, and inspired others to compose around them, or be inspired by them.

I find the music to be moving, but even without that, the story a moving one too.
lethargic_man: (beardy)
2017-01-01 01:44 pm

Rabbit menorah

Today is the last day of Chanukah; the rabbits have been lighting their menorah every day and uploading each photo to Facebook. Here at the end is the complete collection crossposted to DW and LJ: View piccies ) It's always sad to see Chanukah end, but at least I'm not going to have to do any more grubbing around on the rug looking for dropped ball bearings for the next year. (The rabbits response is similar to this one.)
lethargic_man: (capel)
2017-01-01 01:41 pm

Fame at last!

This is the new flier from Masorti Judaism in Germany—and look who they chose a photo of to illustrate the back page.

(This was taken on my first trip to Berlin, for a Marom Olami seminar in 2005; points to [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m for spotting this on Friday night.)

View piccy )

lethargic_man: (Default)
2017-01-01 01:36 pm

My views on the monarchy

Just because I'm knowledgeable about the Royal Family and interested in their history, [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m seems to think I'm pro-monarchist. Well, I don't think you have to be in favour of something which is important to express an interest in it.

It's true that I value tradition, and I appreciate the tourist dollars the Royal Family bring in to the UK, but still, those who know me will have heard me say many times "God save the Queen: she's the only thing keeping Prince Charles off the throne", and I have sympathy for Prince William's years of raging against the predestination of his life before he finally came to accept it.

If I got to refashion the British constitution, I think I'd actually keep the constitutional monarchy, but I'd revert to the pre-Norman system where the Witenagemot (or today, the electorate) chose the next monarch from among members of the Royal Family (or those who stood for the post). I'd also thoroughly purge the monarchy of any political power whatsoever: something that unfortunately the reaction of the establishment to the Black Spider Letters debacle shows isn't going to happen in the UK any time soon.

Anyhow, I didn't take part in any street parties during the Queen's Golden Jubilee or her Diamond Jubilee, and indeed laughed a bit at my parents for so doing. (My streets didn't hold parties anyway.) Afterwards, I regretted this a bit: unless the Queen is lucky enough to make it to her Platinum Jubilee at the age of 95, there aren't going to be any more jubilees until I'm an old man (and in any case, I've taken myself out of the running for any more such by removing myself to a different country, where I won't even get a Bank Holiday to celebrate them).

So I thought I'd post a picture here of myself at the one jubilee of the Queen where I really did join in the celebrations, and the street party, wholeheartedly. But then, I was a bit young for political thinking at the time of the Silver Jubilee.

View piccy )

lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
2016-12-29 07:51 pm

Bār’chu in the absence of a minyan

Following my previous post about blogging and translating the passages in Seder Rav Amrām to be said in place of Kaddish, Bār'chu and Kedushā in the absence of a minyan, here's the second one.

This one also features a quotation from the early mystical literature, along with a reference to the concept found in the Targum that Jacob's face is engraved on God's Throne of Glory.

I couldn't quite resolve all my issues with the Hebrew this time; corrections are welcome.

And again, feel free to share the link more widely.
lethargic_man: (capel)
2016-12-07 12:44 pm

Kaddish in the absence of a minyan

Jewish communal prayer is traditionally recited in the presence of a minyan, a quorum of ten adults. When a minyan is not available, certain prayers—Kaddish, Bār’chu and Kedusha (along with reading from the Torah with blessings)—cannot be recited. Today’s custom is not to say anything here when there is no minyan present, but I was fascinated to discover the first ever siddur, the ninth-century Seder Rav Amrām, gives versions of each of these (with no explanation) for the solo davener. And the first one, at least, is fascinating, with an extended quotation from the literature of Merkavah mysticism.

I thought it might be nice (having previously googled for a translation of the first of these texts, and only been able to find bits of it) to make these texts available for small prayer groups, where not having a minyan is a real possibility; so they can use them as a study resource to fill the slightly awkward gap not being able to recite Kaddish or Bār’chu can leave, or to recite them in part or entirety.

So here's the first one for you; watch this space for further contributions. And please do let me now if you have found any mistakes, or would like to collaborate on this project.