Chicken and pork adobo

Sincere thanks to my friend Patty DLS for this truly excellent recipe. When I travelled to the Philippines regularly in the middle 80s (I was tendering for a Philippine Board of Tourism documentary on the back of the success of the film The Comeback), I would always eat this dish somewhere, and it is one of the traditional dishes of this beautiful country. It is (at least in my experience) an unique flavour, combining soy, vinegar, and sugar to produce an extraordinary taste. Best of all, it is a simple cooking process. Here’s the recipe, pretty much as Patty sent it to me, with a couple of modifications. My notes in square brackets.

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons olive oil [coconut may be substituted]
1 large red Spanish onion, peeled and sliced thinly [Kit: I use two]
1 head garlic, peeled and cut into sticks
500gms lean pork belly strips, cut into 3 cm pieces
6 chicken thigh cutlets (with bone), skin removed if desired [Kit: I leave the skin on]
1 ½ cups brown malt vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
Water to cover the meat…will elaborate below. [Kit: I have not needed to use any water]
2 bay leaves (fresh is better – crushed with your hands to release oils)
3 tablespoons brown sugar {Kit: Patty recommended raw sugar, but I feel brown sugar adds a little something]
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
[Kit: I sometimes add 1 tsp. umami; this is Ajinomoto; MSG to everyone else. Optional, but gives it even more of a lift, if you are OK with it; umami can replace salt in a recipe, too]

EQUIPMENT

Patty wrote: “It is advisable to use enamel–coated casserole pot (such as La Creuset) as steel pots may possibly have a chemical reaction with the vinegar. (Maybe an old wives’ tale)”. I have used stainless steel without any problems as well as a ceramic casserole and noticed no taste difference and no discolouration of the steel pot.

COOKING

– Heat the oil in the casserole pot on high heat, add the chopped onion and sauté until transparent; [Kit: I like a little caramelisation, so cook the onion longer]
– Add the pork and sauté till browned. Add the garlic, bay leaves and the chicken cutlets and continue to sauté until browned. Remove the chicken cutlets and set aside to add later
– Pour the vinegar and soy sauce over the pork, add the sugar and peppercorns and stir well until sugar has dissolved. [KIT: I do this in a separate bowl to make sure the sugar is dissolved completely before adding]
– Add water to cover the meat to allow stewing and remaining moist. Reduce heat to medium after it starts to boil. [Kit: I have not needed to add water, but do cook in a coverd pot, and stirring from time to time. This way little water is cooked off, and the sauce/broth is the richer for it]
– Simmer covered for 1 hour. This is a good time to taste – you are free to add more vinegar or water if you wish. I enjoy it when the vinegar flavour gives a wonderful “burn” sensation on the throat. [Kit: if you don’t add water, this should be perfect; it is to my taste, anyway!]
– Add the chicken and continue to simmer for another ½ hour or until cooked and the meat is just about to fall from the bone. [Kit: I have fond 45′ is perfect for the large chicken legs we get here]
– Serve hot with rice and whatever wine you like. ENJOY!!!! [Kit: that final injunction will not be necessary!. This dish traditionally can be 100% pork, 100% chicken, or the mix suggested here. I have tried all three; the 50/50 mix of chicken and pork works marvellously well on many levels.

Choices and consequences

Correspondence with a student teacher raised some interesting responses, so I thought I would post here to see if this is any use to anyone else. Indirectly, this ties into a thread on the forums that has been running for a while, and which many have found interesting; I will link below. Here’s part of the exchange with my friend:

Thanks for your understanding and support. I have to say that I am not sure I believe in “everything happens for a reason” concept. Or, perhaps I just need to have a little more faith… 

No, that “everything happens for a reason” seems like a non-useful perspective, to me. It is true, though, at the same time to say that the larger perspective cannot be seen at the time, and (assuming one survives the experience) a reason may become clear at a later time. Or the construction of a reason might simply be “post facto” analysis; humans are pattern-seeking organisms above everything else. At its core, this saying is an untestable hypothesis. It may be useful in helping one to feel more relaxed about undesirable events that one finds oneself enmeshed in.

“Everything happens for a reason” seems too passive. I prefer “in this life, there are choices and consequences”. Not making choices has its own consequences. Each choice, without doubt, constrains the possible future from that point. In each of these possible futures, again there are choices and consequences. It is via this process that the past (and its choices) constrains the future. 

Life is sure a journey, regardless you like it or not! 

And your last point is 100% accurate. There’s more, though, in the same vein: tension (in the mind or the body) is simply resistance to what is. Now (and this has been the story of my life) one can choose to push against what’s happening, but rarely will this change what’s happening. What can be useful, though, is that this resistance increases one’s energy level (for a while, at least) and sometimes that same resistance can reveal, or create, opportunities that were not able to be seen at the earlier time, because one’s energy level is higher. This is ‘staying awake’ to what’s actually happening, and responding to the minutiae of this unfolding rather than complaining about it or trying to stop it. The best analogy is surfing a wave: its shape is constantly changing, and the change is being ridden; thousands of subtle adjustments all the while. Too slow and you miss the wave; too fast and the wave buries you. Expert surfers get buried regularly!

Anger has been the common response of my ‘body–mind’ since I began thinking (say, around nine or ten years of age). For me, anger manifests in the cold/cutting style (directed outwards, with clenched jaw) and self-criticism (directed inward); immensely damaging to relationships, and to myself. This needed to be recognised—I will never forget a late-night conversation with one of my teachers, wherein I offhandedly remarked that I was looking forward to the day when I didn’t feel anger. And he said, why? And I replied, you know; damaging to myself and others; and he replied, “I know that, of course; let me tell you about the time of the Great Beings, that the Rishis (Sanskrit: ऋषि ṛṣi) spoke about many thousands of years ago.

He said that many people are are angry for a few minutes, a few hours, weeks—or their whole lives. In contrast, the Great Beings were said to be angry for “the space of two or three heartbeats”. He mentioned that some schools teach detachment—in his view, if pursued, this is the wrong directions entirely: detachment cuts you off from life eventually. “I don’t feel anything” is the consequence.

Far better, he said, to practise non-attachment: one of the blessings of this life is to feel as much as possible but to not be attached to the feeling (to not let the feeling be mistaken for reality, and hence running one’s life or creating an obsession). And this—to be angry for two or three heartbeats—became my life goal in that moment.

So (in the words of a close friend): “how’s that workin’ for ya?” Probably it’d be better to ask those close to me; but as I am the one doing the writing here, I will answer honestly. The short answer is that I have failed, many, many times—but I am aware that I am noticing more. By this I mean that now I literally feel my body (and a particular place in my abdomen) organising itself to “do anger”. If I am awake enough in the moment, I take a breath in and simply hold it gently, and drop my awareness out of my head into that place in my abdomen. I let the breath out, and (this is the critical bit) let that place relax; I let it go completely soft. The sensation literally melts away (because it has not strengthened sufficiently to become anger; think of a wind gathering speed to become a cyclone); the sensation has been felt, noted, and it passes, by itself. Two things to note here: anger is always a mental response initially, but becomes a physical response in instants, and that this movement (from the head to the physical body) must be caught instantly.

So how does this relate to ‘choices and consequences”? Directly, as it happens: the more aware you are, the more you see “choices and consequences”. And the more aware you are, the more you realise that there are infinitely more choices possible than you will have seen before. This is where freedom is experienced.

http://kitlaughlin.com/forums/index.php?/topic/789-muscle-tension-and-flexibility/

Thai green chicken curry

It’s been a while – we have been intensely busy. But we need to eat, and I usually cook in bulk. The recipe below will make four or five dinners for two people. This recipe freezes beautifully. I usually eat one meal with Miss O when it is first cooked, and leave overnight on the stove in the pot, covered. Then I remove another meal’s worth (for us, that’s five legs plus veggies and stock) and there are three meals left over, which I ‘decant’ and freeze in meal serve-sized containers.

Main ingredients
4 trays skinned chicken thighs. We use “Lovely Legs” (Macro organic brand); in Australia, the trays are about 400g each, and contain ~5 LLs).
10–20 Asian eggplants (these look like pale green speckled balls, about the size of a lime)
two large onions, brown or red
one whole head garlic
two medium-sized limes
one lemon
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
big handful shredded dried coconut
handful fresh coriander
3 tbls. coconut oil

Green ingredients to be macerated (I use a 250W Braun hand blender):
all the garlic
1–2 green chili (how hot do you want the end product? I usually only use one or two)
the cut-up white ends of two pieces of lemon grass; save tops
6–8 kaffir lime leaves
one tsp. belachan (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrimp_paste) or 1 tbls fish sauce (if you use fish sauce, reduce the amount of salt you add)
zest from 1–2 limes, depending on taste
juice from limes and lemon
mix down to liquid

Spices (lightly fry before grinding)
1 tbls white peppercorns
2–3 whole star anise
1 tbls. coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
1 tbls. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
6 allspice pimento ‘balls’

Put all the fried spices into grinder, add 1 level tbls. rock or sea salt, and grind finely

Spices cont’d (to be added once lovely legs are resting in the stock)
one whole vanilla bean
1 cinnamon quill

Once cooking starts (details below):
grate 1 whole nutmeg over pot
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or chili flakes
1 tbls. ground turmeric
2 tbls. karamel makasan (cooking caramel; heavy and dark; mmmm) to taste (also makes the stock darker)

Preparation/cooking:
Put coconut oil in heavy-bottomed pot. Cut onions and add the coconut milk and heat. Section eggplants and put aside. I usually cut lime-sized eggplants into thirds, then halve again crosswise, all cuts made vertically. Macerate the wet ingredients (taking great care to not let any of the belachan escape; I wrap cling wrap around the top of the blender to make sure!) and add to pot.

Heat all the unground spices in a small frying pan until one of them just starts to smoke, then put in grinder. Grind finely after adding the salt and stir mixture into pot. Add turmeric, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Omit the cayenne p. if you are using green chillies.

Cook the basic stock until onions are translucent. Add karamel makasan and stir well until consistent colour is achieved. Thin stock to suit; I usually add 1/4–1/2 litre of boiling water to get the consistency I want. Slowly add the Lovely Legs, submerging them. Add the vanilla bean, cinnamon quill, and the top sections of the lemon grass.

Bring to boil and immediately reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, then add the eggplants. Simmer until the chicken and vegetables are cooked to your taste (about 15 minutes more is about right). If you cook the chicken too long, it will fall completely off the bone.
If you want to thicken stock, add one tbsp. finely ground brown rice (use the same spice grinder; this will clean it, too) and stir well before adding eggplants.

Serve with rice on plates with raised edges (to contain the stock). Place rice first, use tongs to place the lovely legs, use ladle to place stock and veggies. Garnish with small handful of chopped coriander leaves and fresh ground black pepper.

Eat with your favourite white wine!

On the eve of going live with the new site

Behind the scenes and most recently while most of you were on holiday, the triumvirate of Miss O, Suu Kyi, and myself have been busily slaving away on what will become the new website. We have learned some remarkable things along the way.

Chief among them (and completely unexpected by me) was to understand for the first time how most people use websites – and much to my surprise the majority of people interact with website via their phones or tablets these days. For me as a power Macintosh user who owns two laptops and a 5K iMac (and quite often they are all doing different things at the same time), the idea of interacting with a web page via a device that is so small that I have to put my glasses on to read it is simply unimaginable. But clearly I am a minority, so my thinking must change.

On the flight back from Malaysia recently I sat next to a young man who is the CEO of a Netflix-like company located mostly in Asia. He told me that their stats say that 90% of their customers interact with their website and their products (films, TV programs) via their phones. This information has a massive impact on the way you design any site that is going to be relevant in the 21st-century, and it says something about the nature of consumption, too, and how that has changed (I am thinking here of the traditional western lounge room dominated by a TV, with couches or chairs, and around which family would gather for the evenings entertainment, after arguing about what to watch. These days are gone forever).

Our current site, like many sites, is a hodgepodge of different softwares and systems. But this phenomenon is hardly limited to us: for example, the last time I spoke to a Commonwealth Bank technical person he told me that they have 17 historical, or legacy, databases that the current software tries to link together, with varying degrees of success. Olivia and I have been unable to successfully change our place of abode in all of those databases and as a result the Commonwealth Bank is still sending paper printouts of various things to an address that we have not lived in for over 12 months. Three separate attempts, with senior people with higher access than the tellers, have failed to rectify this problem. This is a clue.

Relevant here are our ongoing interactions with Telstra; the company which exemplifies the notion of ‘the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing’. And there is an immense unwieldiness and inertia in all large corporations. For example, the last two times we reported a massive internet speed drop (>90%), the business centre dispatched a Telstra technician to find out why – both times a two-cent connector had failed. The tech replaced them with the same connectors. And when I raised this with the head of the business centre, asking him whether the people involved were aware of this problem, he said, yes of course. And I asked him well why don’t they do something about it? And he replied (and this is gold), “That’s the way they’ve been doing it for 45 years.” His point was that it is easier to dispatch a technician and replace a connector than improve – or change – the kind of connector they use.

We cannot look to the large corporations as any kind of guide to current best practice. There are problems with software and hardware and the way they interact and how people expect to be able to use them and if we want to be effective in this very rapidly changing environment, we have to co-invent the future ourselves.

We started this new website project several years ago, but we realise now that what we were really doing was learning about how people use websites and, as a parallel process, refining our own understanding of exactly what it is we’re trying to do with the website; this has changed hugely in the last ten years. There have been three major developments that have played significantly into this process.

We have had some success with our Vimeo On Demand (VOD) presence and ‘VOD’ has become a significant source of income and a focus of work that we will do in the future. VOD has changed our income base – in 18 months. Think about the speed of this change. In fact, apart from the workshops (and perhaps a few classes we will run locally), our entire world is now based on the idea of digital delivery of something that we’ve created in one place in the world and which is delivered, automatically, to any other place in the world, once someone pays us a modest amount. As DW so famously said recently, we are two of the few people making money on the Internet not actually involved in pornography. I found this a charming idea.

Another development fundamental to Stretch Therapy, and which occurred during the same period Vimeo on Demand emerged, is the emergence of print on demand (POD) technology. POD refers to the process whereby you order a book from (say) Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and a hidden “total fulfilment company” gets the order electronically, prints one copy, binds it, packages it, addresses it, and sends it to you. POD, as we affectionately call it, is a boon for authors, who immediately have become publishers with this technology. As I wrote in the foreword to the second edition of Stretching and Flexibility, the shortcomings of the Gutenberg press model have been addressed, finally. I speak of the primacy of economy of scale in the publishing mind-set of previous years (meaning that one had to print a lot of books in order to get individual copy costs down to something manageable, with the financial risk that involves; most books are ‘remaindered’ within 12 months of publication) and of the publishing company’s influence in the authorial process (“Is it too complicated? There are so many words…”). And when books are printed using this almost 600-year-old technology, they have to be transported and stored somewhere, where they are susceptible to the same vicissitudes of Middle Age libraries: rodents, inundation, and fire. With the advent of POD technology, though, any author can update his or her material as quickly as writing it, converting to PDF, and sending it to the company. And publishers are no longer needed.

Between POD and VOD, our world has changed, forever.

The third development is called “micro 4/3rds”: a standard devised by Olympus and Panasonic. The result is a range of hand-holdable video-capable cameras that can also take magnificent still images. All are about half the size of the cameras they replace, or smaller. For example, my four-camera kit will fit in a small carry-on bag and include batteries, lenses, sound recorder, tabletop tripods and other essential equipment – all weighing less than the international 7 kg limit. My old standard definition “professional” video camera weighed more than this, without the charger. Ten years ago no amount of money would have bought a portable studio that could fit into a carry on bag and which could record high-definition video under ordinary room lighting. I can travel everywhere with this bag now and this equipment allows me to make programmes on whatever I feel like wherever I am in the world. As an ex-television director (who once had a crew of 45 in one of the two big four-camera television studios at Gore Hill in Australia), this is liberation. Print on demand is liberation for a writer.

The bigger picture is that these technologies have freed many of us from the strictures of large organisations – and it is not just the inertia I referred to above; it can be the sheer cost of ‘getting the experts’ involved. Today, anyone can become one of those experts. Reorganising our internal mental landscape to take full advantage of this will be required: action requires a vision, the confidence to see it to fruition, and the energy to sustain the effort that will be required.

I don’t want to make today’s blog too long, because I have become aware that most people do not care to read these days. As a writer, I acknowledge this reality in order that I communicate more effectively. So, for example, all individual elements of the new website are introduced by an image or an icon and just a few lines of text, followed by a more button*. In this way the user can skim the total content of the site very quickly and drill down deeper whenever she wishes. This approach is a fundamental change in information architecture that acknowledges the shorter attention spans of the modern reader/watcher; that recognises that information now is more than word-based content; and which results in an organisation that benefits all users.

Today, and perhaps for the first time in human history, content creators and educators are limited only by what can be conceived. Seeing this clearly has profoundly influenced our new website; we will be very interested in your feedback.

*On the new site, clicking this takes you to the bulk of the text, images, possible an icon or two, and maybe an action you can take, like paying for a workshop.

Google has long owned the internet; bowing to pressure, we now have Instagram and Twitter presences, but only to get the site’s new name out there. stretchtherapy.net is live.

Feeding the Beast (how to survive the pressure of the internet in the 21st century)

We have a Facebook Profile, and Facebook Page; the former a personal space that I add things to from time to time and the latter a business presence* which gets updated every time we have something new to let the world know about. Unlike many of my colleagues (who are updating their Facebook presences hour hour, if not minute to minute) I feel no compulsion to put anything up there unless it’s important to me.

We have a new website going live very soon and I’ve written a longish blog about the emergence of new technologies that have completely changed our business world in the last two or three years. All this coming tomorrow or the next day; I will publish the relevant blog as soon as the new site goes live.

And our Forums are going great guns; we have over 1,000 members and more than 11,000 posts now. I hope I’m not jinxing the future by observing that the forums are more or less self-sufficient now as there are many active posters. And our stats tell us that many thousands more visit weekly but describe themselves as lurkers and who are not members and who don’t post. It was always my hope that the Forums becomes an unique repository of knowledge on the subject of stretching and strengthening (and much more, these days) and it seems to be well on the way there.

So, getting back to the title, we do not feed the beast in the same way that we see many other people doing. I feel good about that. I had visitors here recently whose phones have the notifications turned on and who are getting Facebook advisories every five minutes or so. Personally I do not find this relaxing in the slightest and found the pings intrusive but I have noticed that social behaviour has changed incredibly in the last five years.

Olivia and I were in a sports bar/restaurant in New York last year and we saw six people who work together come in for an after dinner drink and dinner. All of them were connecting to other people via their phones for the whole time they were there and the only time they spoke to each other was to briefly point the face of the phone to the table at large and laugh about an image there and then go straight back to the person they were talking to. The interesting thing is that they were all having conversations – just not with each other.

And this blog is only something I turn to when I have ideas that really need exploring for one reason or another. If I think about the total amount of time I spend on the Internet on a daily basis it would look something like this: I get up at 6:30 or seven at the latest (and sometimes much earlier; this depends on many factors) and make the first of the two holy cups of coffee with herbs. I then carry said coffee to the couch or to the floor and open the email client on the MacBook Air (I have two other computers; both sleep at this stage!). I have emails sorted in ascending date order and the client always opens the oldest of the emails first; working through these take somewhere between 45 minutes and two hours. I then go to the Forums and scan the new content; if anything looks either interesting or looks as if it could benefit from some personal input I will go to that but I often leave the forums alone for up to week. I realise in this moment of writing that I never go to Facebook (either page) and I don’t go to the blog are either; that is something that might be accessed when I’m in a more reflective state.

And depending on what is interesting me at the moment I may visit one or both of the pro-photography forums I’m a member of. And that is pretty much the extent of my Internet interaction.

I do have an Instagram account but never use it. I do not have a Twitter account on philosophical grounds: 140 characters is insufficient to express any useful thoughts on anything I’m thinking about and, from the tweets I have seen, encourages the user to pithiness and maximum impact rather than insight. More thoughtful is my inclination.

We will have a Stretch Therapy Twitter account, as google owns the internet these days, but it will only push to the new site. Same for a ST Instagram account.

I feel that social media is having major effects on interpersonal relations. Personally, I think staying off social media will benefit any of the relations near you that you care about, but I feel that I am in the minority now.

So, how do we survive the pressure of feeding the Beast? By realising that the beast is another internal fiction; use the Nancy Reagan approach, and “just say No!

No problem and stay tuned.

*thanks Matt, for picking up a typo

Active brand protection and franchising of Stretch Therapy

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We have had calls from people involved in our work about what the next stage of development might look like; many ideas are being floated—all this is good. So, in a brief post today, I wanted to air an idea or two, to spark reactions and to foment discussion.

While I am alive, there will be no active brand protection for Stretch Therapy and no franchise models for using our work, beyond attending workshops. The short story is that if my attention, or Olivia’s, is directed to “protecting our borders”, then creativity switches off. I have more ideas per day than I can possibly implement. ST will stay ahead of the curve (and hence be pre-eminent in the field) by being the best, and being recognised and spoken about as the best. Whether this is a slow, or fast, process is out of our control, it seems to me. For this reason, we will be devoting our energy to improving ourselves, our offerings, and the way we teach them.

Regarding the franchising model, I have never heard a franchisee speak a pleasant word about it: too many strictures from ‘head office’; too onerous accounting to calculate the fees and too much talk about what counts as a ‘legitimate’ expense—overall, too much energy in a small business needing to go to accountability overheads. No to franchising. Other models need to be developed if, indeed, they need to be developed at all. In our present thinking, we say we need to see a practising teacher show up at one of the cognate workshops within any three-year period to stay on the current teacher listings on our main site. This is how students find a teacher. As well, we make Vimeo on Demand inexpensive download products, and we sell books (print and PDF); teachers recommend these to their students, and the enterprise ticks along. I should say that making money is not my objective, nor Olivia’s; but living in a capitalist culture, we need to pay bills. A holiday would be nice.

A philosopher whose work I admire, Imre Lakatos, wrote of “degenerating paradigms”: these are knowledge gathering systems who spend their energy protecting their boundaries in preference to creating new aspects to their work; many schools of body work who claim to teach an “original system” fall into this category—failing to realise THE most important aspect of learning, which is embodiment. All originators of all systems departed from what they were taught in order to set up their ‘new’ systems; without fail, they changed the original teaching in the process. This will happen to our work, and should happen. (An aside: I once said to one of the senior teachers that, in the future when I am no longer around, if I hear anyone saying “do it like this because Kit said this is how it must be done” I will strike him down with a bolt of lightning!). I want experimentation and practical empirical research—which anyone can do—to happen, with all present being clear about why this technique is held on to, or why this new thing is better. What I am trying to develop is the most efficient method of tinkering—the fact that we use stretching techniques as the method of exploring this field is due to my own personal history—equally we could be discussing ping pong. All teachers of this system need to see themselves as inveterate tinkerers. Only a fool thinks he knows all that is needed.

Many practitioners fall into a similar category: the worst massages I have received have been from massage therapists with postgraduate training; in the limit case, they end up knowing all about their subject from an academic perspective, but being distanced from the in-the-present activity itself in the process, and not being able to do it well. Where your attention goes, you become.

Anyone can take our work and incorporate it into what they do; this is what’s been happening over the last ten years, and we have noticed that very few teachers of our work position themselves as “Stretch Therapy teachers”. There are many reasons for this, no doubt, but we feel (when I say “we” I mean Olivia and I, as the two core people in this system), that we want to get better, not bigger. This is already happening as more people like all the excellent people on the Forums take up, and contribute to, what we do. What we want to do now, with the ten or so years’ of experience of teaching Stretch Teacher workshops behind us, is concentrate more on how to get better. We have some clear ideas about what that will entail, and some not-so-clear ones, and this is what we need the Forums and the workshops for: to clarify and select the best directions for everyone involved in what we do. When I make any decision, the heuristic I use is simple: ‘What is the decision that will bring about the greatest good for the largest number of people involved?”

Getting back to Lakatos for a moment (and I wrote extensively about this in my Master’s thesis, and it was a central idea in my PhD research in talking about lean learning systems), if you are not creating, growing internally and externally, and if you are not constantly re-specifying your objectives and trying news ways of reaching those objectives, then you are dying. Of course, we all share that fate, but many are dead before this event occurs. We don’t want that.

This is why I am suffering through the 45 day ‘ballistic stretching protocol’ (many hundreds of dynamic repetitions of both loaded and unloaded stretching: how else can I know what effect this approach will have on me? This is “conscious suffering”. Something will have been learned, and embodied, by the end of this period. There is no other way of getting this knowledge.

It might be worth reading these posts before engaging with what I write above:

http://wp.me/p1QR8D-kI (Where are the wise?)

and

http://wp.me/p1QR8D-jb (The genie is out of the bottle, and she ain’t going back any time soon)

and

https://kitlaughlin.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/the-90-day-blog-challenge-and-the-50-year-test/ (short one that ends with the “50-year test”)

There is so much more to say on this, but short story is no border protection, and no franchises.

Thanks to dog for the correction to the last link.

Where are the wise?

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Two books I have read recently have had a massive impact on me: Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto). And insights gleaned from both underscore the question of this piece: in the 21st century, who can we look to for wisdom?

Part of Taleb’s thesis is that education (in the formal, university-based sense) does not create the ideas that lead to the technology that our cultures benefit and profit from; or that there is a low correlation; rather, on his account it is dropouts from university like Steve Jobs who do the creating—and that the process of innovation (not just an idea, but bringing it to market, more widely) requires a vast array of additional skills that education only tangentially touches upon, if at all. The main tool of innovation is trial and error—not complex theories. “Tinkering” is a word Taleb uses often. The further point is that increasing access to education (individually or collectively) does not increase the wisdom of those so schooled either—if anything, it reduces the capacity for novel or independent thinking by schooling more rigorously in any discipline. Back in 1970, Neil Postman claimed that “universities are suffering from a hardening of the categories” and that trend has increased. The most novel ideas occur at the interstices between disciplines, yet in this era of outcome-directed research (where “relevance” has to be demonstrated if funding is to be bestowed), interdisciplinary research is becoming rarer.

This claim against the alleged value of formal education (claimed by universities, mostly, but implicitly valued by most Westerners) is made amid a much broader salvo aimed at the traditional holders of wisdom in our modern culture who are the products of these systems (like the head of the Reserve Bank of the US, or Nobel-prize winning economists, or senior academics, or…), and he demonstrates conclusively that most of the “wise” are anything but. For example, not one of the involved parties was able to predict the two recent financial crises that wreaked havoc globally, and all experts relied on predictive modelling but without grasping the huge potential errors that are inherent in this process. Taleb argues persuasively that the assumptions of modelling more generally simply cannot grasp, hence predict, the outlier (or “tail”) events that can have such a destructive impact. His suggestions? Minimise downside (risk or exposure); maximise upside (or potential gain); and get out of debt.

It is not about Taleb’s brilliant thesis I wish to talk about today, though; I mention these two book simply because they have made me think about a number of my embedded beliefs (and hence unexamined until recently). As an aside, I feel that all one’s most deeply held beliefs need to be dusted off and looked at critically—especially deeply cherished ones!

Traditionally (here I mean pre-industrial humans, brilliantly drawn in Harari’s wonderful book Sapiens), wisdom was held to exist in the collective memories of the elderly. Proof of that wisdom was held to be embodied in the old, still existing, humans and that their very existence was sufficient evidence of it! This no longer obtains in any Western culture, though traces may be found in those few groups where generations live under the one roof or in close neighbourhoods. And part of this trend, no doubt, comes from the twin celebration of two concepts, “individual” and “freedom”. This has come at considerable cost, as well as benefit. In most Western cultures, the elderly are ignored as non-productive, and are experienced as a burden—and they are moved out of view into assisted housing or worse. Canteen-grade pap is fed to them; they are largely isolated and they are assisted in dying as neatly as possible, in a way that creates as little inconvenience as possible for their survivors. And that most significant of passages for each of us is sanitised to the nth degree (recorded music in the background; unctuous intermediaries to the fore—and so often these people have not even met the deceased).

Can we look to politicians for wisdom? Or the clergy? There might have been the odd statesman or woman in earlier eras, but it’s hard to think of one… And when I recall the reverence with which my grandmother spoke of the role of the priests in her rural, Irish life, where they were universally held to be wise (by believers, in any case) it is difficult to reconcile her views what we see and hear today.

So where do we look for wisdom? It’s clear, I think, that it will not be to Facebook or Twitter, or prime-time TV, or newspapers in any form. In fact, the sheer proliferation of information is itself a problem, and that problem has concerned many thinkers since it was identified—philosophy, according to the ancient Greeks, is properly concerned with distinguishing between episteme and doxa (truth and opinion). In the face of an information barrage available at the click of a mouse, sorting the wheat from the chaff is harder than ever before, I feel—what the Greeks identified as the pressing question of their day remains.

The problem is deeper than this, though: there is an asymmetry of respect for kinds of knowledge, or skills: since Miss O and I have been closer to the processes of building a house than ever before, it struck me recently that the more abstracted the knowledge, the more it is valued in our culture—yet when watching someone lay a row of bricks, or apply paint to a wall, it’s clear that immense practical/tactile skills are involved—why are these skills so undervalued in our culture? On another axis, why are university lecturers paid so much more than kindergarten teachers? (A personal aside: in the Stretch Therapy system, only the most experienced teachers get to work with beginners, because I believe that beginners, like young children, need the best teachers—the initial interactions literally set the context of how the beginner relates to the processes of learning itself). If that experience is benign, or positive, the beginner learns to teach herself—and once that is achieved, the attitude to learning, as well as the learning experience, is altered forever. The beginner learns to learn by herself and, as I have said many times, as teachers, our goal is to render ourselves unnecessary in this way.

The fact that the capacity for abstract thought is valued over practical skills is at the heart of many of modern civilisation’s ills, it seems to me. And this is what’s behind the blindnesses Taleb identifies in Antifragile: the further you get from hands on-making of things, the more inherently unreliable the constructions—necessarily increasingly mental or conceptual—become. This is simply because when you work at the hands-on level of constructing, the materials themselves are a real constraint on what can be done.  I feel we need a return to a more master/apprentice approach to learning; the term “master” (and mestre, maître, or maestro share the same root, and are gender neutral) simply means someone who has mastered a skill; invariably this means embodiment of physical capacities as well as having an understanding of a discipline. Embodiment is missing from much of the knowledge that our culture values and this is one of our deepest problems. Not coincidentally, the same asymmetry is at the heart of the difficulty one has in the search for wisdom. It is also the root of our present environmental problems: increasing distance from the source (both of what we use and the nature of which constrains us, if we pay attention). Modern mental constructions have enabled such distance from Reality (in the Wilden “big R” sense) that economists can describe the Earth’s capacity to absorb human waste as infinite—and thereby not appear as a cost on the balance sheet. How insane is this? I stop this thread here; I hope the direction is clear. As Korzybski noted so profoundly long ago: “The map is not the territory.”

My personal journey in seeking wisdom within the realms of academia ended with well-funded PhD research (I was looking at the limits to science and logic); a breakthrough came one day when I realised that these disciplines have literally nothing useful to say about the experiences of daily life and how to make these experiences more real. The same disciplines were completely silent on how to live a more authentic life, too, and when I realised that I did not have much of my life left (one of the advantages of entering university as a mature student) I decided to look elsewhere.

I have been extremely fortunate in having met, and spent considerable time with, a number of remarkable teachers. The teachers I refer to here work in the ‘spiritual’ realm (this term is even more fraught than the term ‘traditional’, but for the purpose of this note, by “spiritual”, I mean inward looking and contemplative in direction), the direct opposite to scientific, whose purview is outward and whose intent is to uncover the nature of, and structure of, the world we live in. And it’s not coincidental that the perspective that science explicitly proscribes is the subjective (I will not go into the subjective–objective distinction here, except to say that any individual’s most important information and direct experience on a day-today basis will be found in the former and not the latter domain).

There is a long tradition that holds that contemplation and/or meditation can be a reliable method to uncover wisdom—held to be inherent in us all and which will manifest once various ‘obscurations’ are removed. And this may well be so—but which school; which teacher; which lineage? A partial solution to this problem is offered by Buddhism, in a three-part combination of the teaching itself (damma); the historical figure of the Buddha himself (how he lived; what he said) and a group of like-minded people who are interested in the same (sangha)—the Triple Gem. I feel the last part, the group of like-minded individuals, is a crucial element that is missing for many people in today’s world—face-to-face interaction with people you care about. Facebook does not count! (For brevity, I mention only Buddhism here, but other ‘direct realisation’ schools, like Daoism, or the Tantric schools of Yoga offer similar approaches.)

So—where am I going with all this? At the most fundamental, I am arguing for the necessity of embodiment of knowledge as a precursor to wisdom. Embodiment is a physical/mental process, and we know something about this.

We are stardust, Billion year old carbon,
We are golden, Caught in the devil’s bargain,
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.
(Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock”, 1970)

It’s an old song. Comments very welcome.

Update: I perhaps should have read past p. 375 in Antifragility before writing this note; embodiment is what Taleb goes on to elaborate in his discussion of “skin in the game’, and the relationship between antifragility and ethics. Same idea; and better done in his book! Please read the original; it is the best book I have read in 20 years.

My thanks to Dave Wardman for insightful comments, and Miss O for correcting a typo or two; any remaining silliness is my fault.

And you may care to read Dave’s earlier pieces on his blog that inspired this one:

http://physicalalchemy.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/the-agile-lifestyle.html

http://physicalalchemy.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/the-agile-lifestyle-part-ii-deathstyle.html

References:

“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, by Yuval Harari

“Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto)”, by Nassim Taleb

“System and Structure”, Anthony Wilden

“Science and Sanity”, Alfred Korzybski

A (brief) introduction to video, for stills photographers

(The same text appears as a front page article, www.getDPI.com; thank you Bob, Jack and Guy)

A (brief) introduction to video, for the stills photographer

Of course, this will be anything but brief! I say this because once I started thinking about the problem, it opened like Pandora’s box. Here’s the essentials, to start a discussion.

In a recent interaction on GetDPI.com, I wrote the following bare bones of an article; Rawfa, mentioned below, is a member who made a lovely one-camera video (https://vimeo.com/81553093). I want to use the interaction on that thread as the framework for bringing out what I see as the two main differences between video and stills as story-telling mediums.

Some background: I was a national network director (ABC-TV, Australia) for five years; I made 350+ live programs, and half-a-dozen film-based documentaries (one which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Comeback). Here, “film-based” means more than the recording medium: it is a whole approach. All the live TV work (350 programs) used what we now call multi-cam (as all video-based TV does; in studio-based setups, you have up to five synchronised cameras, and multiple sound sources also ’synced’; once live, the director simply calls for the required angle; all are visible on a bank of monitors. The TV-based idiom is very different to the film-based approach. But one aspect that remains similar between the mediums is the audience’s expectation of continuity and placement of sound, and the implicit expectation that the sound should seem to come from the person in view on the camera being used. This is a critical, and largely mis-, or not, understood dimension in the modern video-from-stills-camera-era, except in Hollywood. More on this below.

Rawfa’s approach: single camera, multiple takes, on-camera sound recording: ‘going Hollywood’

The way Rawfa shot that lovely video (one camera and recording live sound via the on-camera Røde mic) makes a lot of work in post. One-camera shoots and multiple setups (to get all the angles you need) are traditional Hollywood, but are much more work than the method I use. And as many have noticed, recording sound from a microphone mounted on the camera has multiple drawbacks, even if you mount a decent mic.

And it’s clear that he was 1–3m away from the voice and the drum—and you can capture decent audio at those distances—but the on-camera mic means the perspective of the sound changes as the camera position changes, and on-camera mics are sensitive to handling and camera-operation sounds (like focussing, and iris changes). Humans are very sensitive to this, and find any mechanical sound intrusive; we will tolerate pretty much any visual chopping and changing (think of MTV clips) but we are disturbed by sound track changes, either in terms of perceived loudness, change of perspective (stereo L-R effects), and the quality of the sound (close-mic’d sound is totally different to room atmosphere plus voices, for example).

As Rawfa said:

“But in this particular case the guy called me for a photo shoot and I ended up making him a music video with LIVE sound…which was kind of hell, as each time I shot a different angle the music had a different duration (from 3 to 5 minutes). Editing was much harder than with the artist playing with a master track playing in the background.”

And he added:

“Regarding video, it would have been a smart move from Sony to have chosen a touch screen LCD that allowed you to choose focus by tapping.”

Let me use that comment as the jump-in point to explain my approach:

Multiple cameras recording simultaneously, separate sound recording, method depending on situation

Let’s use Rawfa’s shoot as an example. A relatively inexperienced performer cannot reproduce the same performance in subsequent takes—this was the differences in take durations noted. A skilled performer can come close enough. But no two performances are the same, and if you want to shoot two or (in this case) five takes to get all the camera angles you want, you can enter editing Hell very quickly: done this way, the post production editing process is difficult; there will be no accurate sync between the takes because the performer is actually doing a different performance each time, the perspective of the sound being recorded changes as the camera moves, and so on. In the modern small-camera era, there is a much better way, I believe.

I use multiple µ4/3rds cameras and separate sound recorder(s). I record sound and vision at the same time (sound on the recorder; vision on the cameras). And if the performer wants to do a number of takes, I record the sound of each take, plus the vision of each take. I will detail gear below, but the most important aspect of the way I shoot is not the cameras; it is that I use a number of small broadcast-standard recorders, each of which have different sound characteristics. There are two main approaches I use:

I get the sound into the recorder via lavaliere mics (those small ones you see newsreaders use, pinned on to lapels; these feed into a radio transmitter, hidden on the performer, or out of shot) or use the recorders’ microphones to record sound directly into the recorder. In the latter case, the recorder itself, with its built-in mics, will either be hidden out of shot, or (usually with much better sound) suspended over the performer, and within a metre (three feet) of the mouth of the performer. Getting the mike close to the mouth is critical: sound obeys the inverse square law. What does this mean in practise? It mean that the sound you want to record becomes one quarter as loud if the distance between the sound and the recorder doubles. And the unfortunate effect of this law is that, as the perceived loudness of the voice diminishes with this distance change, the perceived loudness of background sound (compared to the voice) increases; this is one form of the signal-to-noise problem. We usually do not want to hear the background sound in preference to, or competing with, the voice we are recording—so we try to get the mic as close as we can.

What kind of stereo recording?

An aside without getting too technical: one of my recorders, the $179 Zoom H2n, records variable-width mid-side (MS) recording; others use a conventional x-y microphone pattern; the latter is a standard approach to micing stereo sound with one device. Modern recorders work very well. The significance of mid-side recording is that the apparent width of the sound stage being recorded can be changed; and in some noisy situations this can give better final sound. However we get the sound into the recorder, though, it will be higher quality than recording the sound into the camera itself, unless the camera can record clean sound at a minimum standard of 48KHz and 16bit (what pro. editing programs use). Note that lavaliere mics are all monaural (single audio track, with equal loudness in both channels when played back in post into a pair of studio monitors, or headphones); the perception from the viewer’s perspective is that the sound is coming from the centre of the picture. This can be adjusted in post if necessary, but usually I don’t. If, as I often do, I record stereo rather than mono, then as the sound changes from L–R in real time (person A speaks, then person B), the listener/viewer hears this change too. So, for example, in my exercise videos, the person on the left of screen’s voice comes from the L of picture (assuming a wide shot that shows the ‘action’ from the front) and a person in the middle will be heard as speaking from the centre of the picture, and so on.

The Stage metaphor

Since the days of the ancient Greeks, performers work to the front of a stage (where the audience is viewing them or where the cameras are placed) or turn away from it: the point is that most performances include this invisible stage. All films work off the same metaphor, and this is the main reason we need to hear voices from where they actually originate. An important point to note is that, in a low-budget production, if the sound is recorded in mono and the ‘stage’ is created in an establishing “wide shot” (so we, the audience, can see where everyone is) then the brain interprets the person speaking on camera L as the sound coming from the L, even though a monaural signal, by definition, comes from both speakers equally. This helps us, a lot, in practise.

Establishing the stage in video

So, back to my approach: I record vision from a number of cameras simultaneously; one camera records the whole scene; this allow the audience’s point of view (“POV”) to be established (and if the wheels fall off, can be the fallback angle), and the other two cameras record either closer-perspective ’two shots’ (a framing that contains two whole people, or the heads and shoulders of two people) and another might shoot a ‘close-up’ (say, the head, or the hands doing something that’s important to the story). The performer will know where his/her closeup camera is, and when making to-audience remarks, will direct his/her eyeline to it (in this example, eyeline will mean that, when making discursive remarks, as though speaking directly to the viewer, the performer looks at this camera directly). In a documentary setup, performers are asked to ignore the camera(s); this way, the fiction of the invisible observer can be created. There’s more, but you get the idea.

I often use a top shot (a camera suspended over the action) too, because my videos are educational, and people need to see what’s happening in order to imitate. And the sound is recorded on one recorder. Very occasionally I use a number of recorders; if using the latter approach, then each recorder will be recording a single person ‘close up’; all are synced, and when I choose to go to a closeup when cutting the program, then that sound is selected too, so that intimacy is preserved (closer picture requires closer sound, for verisimilitude. Individual micing is not necessary on most low-budget productions. And I define “low-budget” as what we used to call documentary style shooting: small crew numbers. I usually do everything!

Focusing in the video world

The ‘tap to focus’ aspect mentioned above is one key advantage of the Panasonic range over all competitors: unless you want to ‘go Hollywood’, and use a follow-focus setup (and a second someone skilled to operate it), and have the performers hit their marks within fractions of an inch so they are in focus, you need to be able to focus on the fly. Panasonic’s tap-to-focus system works, and it’s an ‘eased’ movement of the focus point, too (starts slow, speeds, then slows as it finds it; this looks very natural). Using AF-C, continuous focus, never works as hoped for, in my experience, anyway. All the AF-C systems, when shooting video, constantly “hunt”: this means that the camera refocuses, and checks, and refocuses again: this is disturbing for the viewer. We use mostly wide angles on our cameras (and as we all know, µ4/3rds has a deeper zone of acceptable focus anyway, compared to FF or APS-C sensors). I use the 14, 17, 20, and 45 mainly. µ4/3rds shoots truly lovely video; 3D is perfectly possibly as is background separation—and what most people don’t know is that µ4/3rds is close to the ‘sensor size’ of 35mm film (which is shot across the negative, not along it); see this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0shWr-oon4 for details. More on cameras below.

The Slate: tying it all together

Shooting multi-cam, I use an old fashioned slate (clapper board) at the beginning of the recording process—this has many advantages. Assuming I am recording “live” (actual sound and vision being recorded simultaneously) I have no post problems at all: I bring the sound and all camera’s vision into FCPX, and sync the cameras’ angles and the sound tracks on the slate, then simply (while watching all cameras’ angles simultaneously), I decide which angle I want the audience to “see” at any time. All this is non-destructive, and all can be changed. Because sound and vision is already in sync, and the sound is the actual sound, I have no problems in post, and the result sounds real.

This is the merest intro to shooting video. The biggest learning curve for the stills pro learning video is not the angles, or the lighting; you have all that. It’s what does the audience need to see, to tell the story you want to tell, and how to get the best realistic sound (sound that is perceived as real in relation to the vision you are showing). Getting the sound ‘right’ is the key to good video, yet almost without exception, beginning directors focus on image quality. I have to say this again: an audience will tolerate any crappy quality, image-wise (think black and white, super grainy, choppy vision) but they demand sound as close to ‘being there’ as they can get.

As an aside, in Guy’s runway case, I would be taking an audio feed from the emcee’s audio, or record the live audio from the audience’s perspective (assuming the live audio is good; often it’s not); you can always get a feed from whoever is doing the sound for the show. I would record this audio with a recorder plugged in to the desk itself; this is what the audience is hearing, after all. And whatever else I record (if I do) this is the ‘safety sound’, meaning that if everything else fails, sound-wise, I have a program at the end of the process.

Post production (factor in 2–10 times the time it took you to shoot!)

The second biggest part of the learning curve for video is in the post productions editing programs; I use FCPX. It is an amazing program (I have been using FCP since FCP2) but there was a big learning curve moving from FCP studio (FCP7) to FCPX. Learning how to edit convincingly is the hardest part of the additional skill set for stills photographers moving to video, IMHO.

My Gear

Briefly, and on the gear front: I use Panasonic GX-1, G6, GX-7, and an Oly EM-5 (the latter is my ‘steadycam’: I attach a monopod, and hold loosely, use a relatively wide angle lens (usu. 34mm EFOV) and move like a ninja—and the footage is excellent and cuts perfectly with the rest). I use the other cameras (usually two others, sometime three) on fixed tripods

Re. sound recorders: my go-to recorder is the Sony PCM-10; I mount it to a boom, and position it above the action, and record stereo. Sometimes I use recorders that look like USB sticks; I tape these inside a performer’s collar with Elastoplast; this stops clothing sound completely. These record in relatively high quality mono .mp3 files; I convert these to 48KHz/16 bit using a free program (Audacity), so FCPX can ingest. If recording an event’s sound, you will need to take a ‘line feed’ (this is a higher level than a mic feed; all decent recorders can switch between these. Check the connector needs with the audio dude before production night!

I have one fluid head for any panning/tilting requirements; the other cameras sit on fixed tripods, and usually are unmanned.

Is 4K necessary?

No non-Hollywood director needs more than 1080p video, in my humble opinion. Forget 4K, unless you need extensive post production (reframing, colour, green-screen, etc.). In all my videos for my Vimeo on Demand programs, all we use is the low end of HD, 720p (this means progressive scan, so discrete images) shot at 30 frames a second (“fps”). I suggest forget shooting at 24 fps: unless you obey the physics-determined panning speed specs (way slower than any beginning director ever uses!) then horrible choppy video will result. 30fps looks pleasing, and renders movement well. And there is always 60fps to render rapid movement nicely as an option on many cameras.

If you have a spare hour, a just-released podcast from wellroundedathlete.com

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Hello all,

Your humble author here. It has been an immense week: getting the cover and text files for the second edition of Stretching & Flexibility up on two platforms (Lightning Source and IngramSpark, for the e-book version); more on this in a later blog, and meeting with the wonderful customer service person, Rushelle, was truly excellent yesterday. It is incredible to me that more companies do not realise that people are their business, not an irritation to be suffered—but as the old saying has it, life is long, and all will be realised, whether the companies like the results, or not! Anyhow, companies like these two (and Sophos, our industrial-strength virus protection software company, also based in the UK) realised this reality long ago and, as a direct result (and as more and more companies move their HR and customer help desks off-shore, to Mumbai and Manila) that only this aspect—being able to call a number and get a real, local, person on the line—gives a real edge to what they are doing, in this world where google can find pretty much anything. But I digress.

The podcast I wish to turn to now. When you have an hour or so, and if you really want to know what’s the thinking; the ideas, behind the physical activities we are all pursuing, please put on your headphones and listen to this:

http://wellroundedathlete.net/008-kit-laughlin-podcast/

and the transcript (thanks Ande!) can be downloaded here:

Kit-Laughlin_WRA-Podcast_with-commentary

Cherie listened to all this at 06:00 today; she said this is the three days of the Into the Stretch workshop condensed into one hour; not too far from reality, I feel. Please let me know what you think, and please share the link—and last, and most, my deep thanks to Justin and Sean for allowing me this opportunity.