Monday, January 17, 2005

The Bison Forest and Tolstoy's War and Peace

The Bison Forest or Bialowieza Forest once extended from the Nordic icelands to quite near the Mediteranean Sea near Spain and from the North Sea to right across to Central Russia. Now it has shrunk to the border between Poland and Belarus. An area 3 miles by 5 miles has species that have been undistrubed over time. About 300 European Bison have been reintroduced. Russian Czars and Emperors built a hunting lodge-palace and had seasonal hunting trips in the Forest, though they restocked the forests over the years and protected parts of the forest. A mighty oak tree that started life in the forest in the 14th century and under which a Polish Prince took refuge from his enemies, was blown over by heavy winds just 10 years ago.
Bialowieza Forest
"Situated on the watershed of the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, this immense forest range, consisting of evergreens and broad-leaved trees, is home to some remarkable animal life, including rare mammals such as the wolf, the lynx and the otter, as well as some 300 European Bison, a species which has been reintroduced into the park."

I also happened to watch a television dramatisation of Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace". I was surprised to see a scene where horses and hounds were used to chase some animal, probably the fox. I wonder how the scene is actually depicted in the book. ( Today while at a busy crossroads on a main road nearing home, a fox waited for the traffic to die down and then crossed the road looking well pleased with himself.)
The scenes showed the similarities in court life between Europe and Russia. Curiously when Bonaparte's armies marched into Russia the peasant folk gave them their carts, animal stocks and horses and burnt down their own crops. Quel dommage!
Did that pave the way for the end of the rule of the Czars ? Quel dommage seeing as the French concept of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite never took hold on Russian soil but Karl Marx's teachings did in a way he never meant.
""It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity..."--from Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens .

More analysis of the Napoleonic era at :


Considering the film had Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn in it, it's quite likely the film had nothing to do with how Tolstoy meant the story to be enacted if he'd had a choice in the matter. Court life in Europe and Russia may have had some similarities but the differences might have been greater.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Happy to be alive

A survivor of the South East Asian Tsunami Sylvia Lucas was found clinging to a wooden board (which helped her to stay alive). She was washed out to sea while playing on the beach with a friend when the tidal waves struck. Previously helicopters had flown by picking up people miles on either side of her. She also spoke of a giant fish which circled her for hours. She was found in shark-infested waters.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Three Creative Tools

I received the book "The Sound of Paper" from a friend, an early birthday present as we'll not meet again until long after the event.
It's by Julia Cameron and she has written two other books which I've now added to my New Year's wish list.It appears she has written more than three.

This is the book I have. Anyway the Three Creative Tools are:

Morning Pages : three pages of longhand, morning writing about anything and everything.
Complain, whine, grumble, grieve, hope, celebrate, plan, plot. Obviously a blog isn't the immediate place for this. Sharing thoughts once in a while may be Ok.
Now for the tools. Tesco do a great range of cheap pencils and pens that just glide over paper. Great for rapid writing. I wouldn't recommend them for drawing where some resistance between pencil and paper is desirable. And the same with hand-crafted writing. I had a calligraphy set lying somewhere. In fact I used to have another set but can only find the nib holder and bottle of Indian Ink. I could get some nibs and I still have great writing paper left over from previous years' presents.

Artist Dates : Once-a-week festive outing undertaken and executed solo. On an Artist Date you become intimate with ourselves, our hopes , dreams and aspirations. Time set aside to nurture our creative consiousness. Think pleasure not duty. Think mystery not mastery. Trips to Natural History and Art Museums.

Walks : The third pivotal tool. Two to three half hour walks a week and one long one at weekends. Julia Cameron promises that it would nudge us out of our habitual thinking. It builds a bridge to higher consciousness. The doctors recommend 10,000 steps a day - about five miles.

On art, I find this book very inspirational.

He has broken most rules of painting with oils and his paintings look like watercolours at first glance, albeit elaborate and painstaking watercolours. I've pasted that table here a s a reminder I need to look for an easel. That table folds into an easel as well, though you'd have to go the Lee Sinclair's site (details on the bottom Right Hand side of this blog). 6th girl along in this image has put up an easel.

Warning! It costs! But so convenient if you are short of space. TV dinners, easel, coffee table, easel, dining table, easel. A professional artist wouldn't touch it. A studio or converted barn with an upright easel, nothing less. Tip for UK residents : Sussex Stationers have great books and art materials at a fraction of the price.This book cost me 12.50, at Amazon it's 17.50 and the RRP is 25 pounds. though the three-for-two deals at Waterstones and Best Books are worth keeping an eye out for. Ottakkers are more a specialist book shop - I think they do great children's books and toys.

And added to my wish list are these books ,

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (20th anniversary edition with a new preface by the author) a belated trip down Creative Computing. I see I have managed to weave my own three creative tools. Though with the latter category I'm thinking more along the lines of Cascading Tile Sheets and DHTML and Fonz(fonts) and XML.
Written by Charles C. Wetherell while at Livermore Labs, it attracted just the right kind of hacker personalities. People who were initiated and inspired by Etudes tend to be exceptionally good programmers.
C. Wetherell, the author is still considering a second edition. Currently Etudes sells for above $90 for a run down copy. The last auction at Ebay peaked at $270 for a mint edition. C. Wetherell implemented Kriegspiel in FORTRAN 66 while at Lawrence Livermore Lab. There's an interview with him and Tom Buckholtz at nersc.gov.
A Kriegspiel game features two people playing chess against each other. All the rules of chess (with the exception of conventions about forced draws) apply, but each player has his own board and cannot see the opponent's position on the other board.

Indeed, a player can place chessmen of the opponent's color, coins, or other objects on the board to indicate the player's guesses about the opponent's position. Such memory aids are not part of the official game.

With our Kriegspiel monitor, a player was allowed to put any number of opponent's pieces of any type on his own board, subject to two limitations. One could not put an opponent's man on a square occupied by one's own chessman. One could not put more than one opponent's piece on any one square. Also, I should note that we did not provide an analog of "coins."

As I had seen the game played, only two boards were used, with the White pieces being official on one board and the Black pieces on the other. Usually, the players sat facing each other with their boards between them and an adequately tall, wide, and opaque "divider" standing between the two boards [37]. The referee positioned himself at one end of the divider and mentally superimposed the official positions of the two players. (I recall rumours that some referees used third boards, maintaining the actual chess positions thereon as aids to themselves.)

I was proficient at refereeing two games simultaneously. This required four chess boards and one long divider. I stood at one end of the divider. The two players nearest me faced and played against each other. The other two players faced and played against each other. My main challenge was to maintain a normal degree of referee-generated "banter" and convey the required information without slowing down either the "near board" or "far board" game. Accuracy in refereeing did not prove a challenge.

Because all the rules of chess (except conventions about forced draws) apply, the two opponents know each others starting positions. Such "complete knowledge" usually dissipates starting with the first or second pair of moves.

Software Practice and Experience available at Wiley Publishers available on their interesting Pay-per-View sites and other relevant links here and here for anyone interested in in-depth detail. Way beyond my skills but posted here for anyone who chances by and does have the skills and knowledge.