Monday Melbourne: XXXIV, June 2004
Russell Degnan

The Royal Arcade, useful shelter from the wind and cold.

Melbourne Town 24th June, 2004 01:38:13   [#] [2 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XXXIII, June 2004
Russell Degnan

Perhaps my favourite picture ever, Collins St. from the old stock exchange in the rain. Taken September 2002.

Melbourne Town 16th June, 2004 23:12:33   [#] [0 comments] 

The Music of Architecture
Russell Degnan

Found floating around the planning blogs. Wired magazine had an article on Christopher Alexander's The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe. Although they obviously can't do his 2000+ page work justice they have condensed the key points down for examination.

Alexander has attempted to explain why how architecture could be better, using the natural world as his guide. But, underlying the natural world is a poorly understood, but complex mathematical relationship that we are only beginning to understand. So, Alexander's book is merely a stepping stone in the examination of the structures of life, and the models we can build by imitating its procedures - as opposed to its eventual form.

But this is not the first field to undergo mathematical examination for complex patterns. Probably the first field to do that was music, by Pythagoras and its somewhat mystical followers. Culminating in the works of Herman Helmholtz. it is interesting then, to examine Alexander's different elements and consider them in the context of the four elements of music: melody, harmony, rythym, and dynamics.

Rythym first, is the basis of the song: the beat. For a building it is the constant changes in the building and streetscape, the repetition of arches, columns, decoation, houses, street lamps, and roads. Alexander recognises these as Gradients, Repetition, Contrast and Echoes. A long undecorated blank wall is bad because first and foremost, "it 'aint got no rythym".

Harmony is the relationship between elements, the notes. They are harmonic in relation to simultaneous and successive notes according to a fixed, and relatively simple mathematical ratio based on their frequency. For a building it is Positive Space, Shape, Local Symmetries and Simplicity. They are such that all the different elements go together without jarring the senses. Classical architecture is obsessed with harmony and rythym - the size and shape of columns, and capitals and their proper spacing. But while it is servicable, a truly great building - or public space needs the other two elements as well.

The melody is the overall structure of the song. For a building it is its shape, and functional elements arranged in a way that each is in harmony with the other. For Alexander it is Scale, Strong Centers, Boundaries, and Not-Separateness. It is the meeting of the building, space or even an organism with its surroundings and the use of what is available. Each living part of nature has its own melody, seperate from the ubiquitous rythyms and harmony common to everyone.

To quote from the page earlier: "Once a song is organized by melody, harmony, and rhythm, it is technically presentable". This is also true of any building, but it is damning it with faint praise. The dynamics, the emotion, or in nature, the mere random chaotic side is the final important thing. You could easily criticise architects for paying too much attention to this element and not those previously mentioned, which is no doubt the reason Alexander has spent thirty years on these books. But they are still important. For him they are the Deep Interlock and Ambiguity, and Roughness. Also to note, dynamics are not necessarily chaotic - in nature they are a reaction against the natural environment and merely appear so, a point I'll return to at another time - there are hidden harmonic structures in organic forms that still react some part of the brain. But, I'd have to read Alexander's book to see how he thinks to bring them forth.

For planners, finding a way to accomodate knowledge of natural - rather than fixed - order, so as to achieve better planning ends is somethign that would be great to see. How it can be done is another matter.

Passing Fancy 13th June, 2004 02:47:23   [#] [0 comments] 

Spam, spam, spam, spam
Russell Degnan

Man: You sit here, dear.

Wife: All right.

Man: Morning!

Fed. Govt.: Morning!

Man: Well, what've you got?

Fed. Govt.: Well, there's ports and freight rail; ports rural railways and freight rail; ports and roads; ports freight rail and roads; ports freight rail rural railways and roads; roads freight rail rural railways and roads; roads ports roads roads freight rail and roads; roads rural railways roads roads freight rail roads fast trains and roads;

RACV: roads roads roads roads...

Fed. Govt.: ...roads roads roads ports and roads; roads roads roads roads roads roads urban railways roads roads roads...

RACV: roads! Lovely roads! Lovely roads!

Fed. Govt.: ...or an integrated management of urban and rural transport infrastructure backed with a user-pays market system to avoid inappropriate distortions and with a port on top and roads.

Wife: Have you got anything without roads?

Fed. Govt.: Well, there's roads ports rural railways and roads, that's not got much roads in it.

Wife: I don't want ANY roads!

Man: Why can't she have ports freight rail roads and rural railways?

Wife: THAT'S got roads in it!

Man: Hasn't got as much roads in it as roads ports rural railways and roads, has it?

RACV: roads roads roads roads... (Crescendo through next few lines...)

Wife: Could you do the ports freight rail roads and rural railways without the roads then?

Fed. Govt.: Urgghh!

Wife: What do you mean 'Urgghh'? I don't like roads!

RACV: Lovely roads! Wonderful roads!

Fed. Govt.: Shut up!

RACV: Lovely roads! Wonderful roads!

Fed. Govt.: Shut up! (RACV stop) Bloody RACV! You can't have ports freight rail roads and rural railways without the roads.

Wife: I don't like roads!

Man: Sshh, dear, don't cause a fuss. I'll have your roads. I love it. I'm having roads roads roads roads roads roads roads urban railways roads roads roads and roads!

RACV: roads roads roads roads. Lovely roads! Wonderful roads!

Fed. Govt.: Shut up!! urban railways are off.

Man: Well could I have her roads instead of the urban railways then?

Fed. Govt.: You mean roads roads roads roads roads roads... (but it is too late and the RACV drown her words)

RACV: (Singing elaborately...) roads roads roads roads. Lovely roads! Wonderful roads! roads roa-a-a-a-a-ads roads roa-a-a-a-a-ads roads. Lovely roads! Lovely roads! Lovely roads! Lovely roads! Lovely roads! roads roads roads roads!

With apologies to Monty Python

Sterner Matters 9th June, 2004 13:44:40   [#] [2 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XXXII, June 2004
Russell Degnan

The breakwater at Sandridge Beach. Taken June 2003.

Melbourne Town 7th June, 2004 16:57:40   [#] [0 comments] 

The Mechanics of Off-Spin
Russell Degnan

Or why they all chuck occasionally

When it comes to chucking, there is a lot of spurious things said, including by many people who should know better. Scott Wickstein has weighed in on some comments by Ambidextri when he said (amongst other things) that " Umpires cannot decide on their own whim to call him, and certainly cannot see with the naked eye if a delivery is legal or not.".

This is plain rubbish. Umpires are well placed to judge on a straightening of the arm beyond a certain point. 10 degrees, the legal limit for fast bowlers, is very noticeable, even at high speed. The animation below demonstrates 10-degree flexing, at the typical speed an umpire will see.

The baggy sleeves of today's players aside it is quite obvious and bowlers should be called if they are flexing anything like that amount. Murali's doosra is apparently 14 degrees, but can be bowled at 10.2 degrees. Both of which are throws. Both of which should be called.

But that is not the whole story at all. These figures are (presumably) averages over many trials. No ball is bowled exactly the same, and a lot of bowlers will exhibit some degree of flexing on delivery. An often forgotten point - particularly with the stigma attached to being branded a 'chucker' - is that no bowler throws every ball, and most bowlers will throw a few. A bowler can feel when they have chucked it, in the elbow. I do it when I have no rythym, bowling mediums, on the odd occasion. Bowling off-spin, far more often, because of the nature of it as I'll explain below - but I don't bowl them outside the nets.

In the '50s and early '60s when the adminstrators tried to crack down on chucking, laws were created that required cautions, and the removal of bowlers who bowled no-balls. This, in my opinion, was wrong. It creates too large an expectation that a bowler will never throw. In reality, it is not substantially different to over-stepping the line. It shouldn't happen, but it does.

Off-spinners are particularly susceptible to chucking because they are roll their fingers in the same direction their elbow points - and therefore will naturally straighten their arm if it wasn't already straight. The classical off-spinner - Tim May for instance - pivots on their front foot, rotating from side to front on, and having their elbow pointing towards square leg. The image below shows a top down shot before the ball is bowled and a shot from behind on release.

The second image shows the advantage gained by a bent elbow. Straightening and propelling the ball in the direction of the spin, gaining both pace and turn.

Muralitharan bowls differently to a classical off-spinner, and is even more susceptible to throwing as a result. He is almost front-on as he gets to the wicket, with his elbow pointing down. On release, the elbow points down the pitch and the ball is rolled off the fingers generating extra turn.

It is not impossible to bowl it legally and the majority of the time he does so. But it is very very difficult to bring the arm through with the elbow pointing down without it being bent, and as such, the likelihood of straightening it as the fingers are opened is very high.

For the doosra, it is harder still. The arm comes through in the same way but is then twisted so the hand can be cocked to the right of the ball, making it even more likely to be bent, and even more likely to be straightened on release.

It isn't an issue of "is Murali or anyone else a chucker?". Sometimes he does, and because of his action is far more likely to than most other bowlers. On the doosra, the majority of the time I think it is being thrown - but that doesn't mean it can't be modified to be legal.

Instead of extensive tests in which a bowler can show a minimally acceptably type of bowling, the ICC should return to a simpler, fairer system, more in keeping with the spirit of the game. I'd do it as follows:

1. If in the umpire's opinion the ball was thrown the bowler should be quietly advised that the umpire was concerned and will be watching.

2. Subsequent balls of a questionable nature should be called no-ball. No further action should take place. If a bowler is unable to continue bowling without throwing then it is the captain's responsibility to remove him from the attack.

3. At the end of each day's play, the umpiring review that is conducted using the television replays should include all no-ball decisions - if any - to keep a standard level of leniency and ensure the umpires are capable of calling no-balls.

Finally, because of the mess the ICC has created, and the difficulty for bowlers used to throwing the ball whenever they feel; I'd phase it in over two years, where umpires inform the bowler that a ball would be a no-ball. Each call would then be assessed at the end of the day to ensure that adequate standards will being attained when the law is changed.

But the laws have to change somehow. One, because it isn't in the interests of the game to have a fractious and expensive system of administration for the laws of play. And two, such a system is only feasible at the upper levels of the sport. Despite what the ICC seems to think, there are people playing cricket who aren't test cricketers.

Idle Summers 7th June, 2004 03:13:23   [#] [0 comments] 

A mere decade of procrastination
Russell Degnan

It was in 1994 - during year 12 - that I first came to the State Library, and first realised what a wonderful thing a real library is. Since my reading habits at the time were mostly related to ancient warfare I requested Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and Caesar's Gallic Wars. Although I was able to pour through Sun Tzu, it wasn't until I got to university that I was able to borrow, and therefore read Caesar, in one of those delightful little red latin-english books by Loeb.

It was also at that time that I came to the conclusion that I should learn latin. Ten years later; still know very little latin.

This winter holidays will see a renewed attempt, this time with the help of several incredibly useful online resources.

My long history with wanting to learn what is often referred to as a 'dead language' (yeah, tell that to the Pope) is just one reason why this article is interesting. The other is where that push is coming from.

If my english is of a barely adequate standard, my knowledge of the structure of the language makes that look wonderful. I blame it on the practically non-existent curriculum of endless mandatory english classes. Grammar was taught to me, once, but stopped at about grade four. Instead, I and everyone else, was 'taught' english without any reference to any basic knowledge. The decline in learning latin and grammar paralleled with a change in teaching across the board, emphasising learning by interaction - a good concept done well, but I think more difficult to attain. Languages were no longer required to 'broaden' an education, but because of their value in vocational work. French and latin - both of which give many insights into english - were replaced by German, Indonesian and Japanese - the latter of which are of limited value in understanding your own thought.

What is interesting then, is the a resurgence in interest in latin - something which is increasingly evident, not just in relation to this article. It seems similar to a renewed interest in many fields in pre-modernist ideas and the foundations of society's insitutions: new urbanism, classical architecture, the philosophy of everyday life and politics, and history before the twentieth century - the Hitler channel notwithstanding. Not necessarily a rise in conservative values, but rather a re-appraisal of what babies were thrown out with the bathwater.

Moreover, the driver behind this change in attitude appears to be the internet. People who would otherwise be classed as obsessive, and perhaps a little odd, are constantly putting online the most remarkable things. Scanned manuscripts of forgotten document collections, translated versions of obscure diaries, a wealth of out-of-copyright books and photographs. While it is not as earth-shattering as the rediscovery of classical texts during the renaissance during the early days of cheap printing - it is pushing people to re-examine their recieved notions. Albeit in a very modern, diffuse and personal way.

Learning latin has suddenly become a useful skill again. Even better the internet allows you to partially bypass the biggest problem with learning latin, as opposed to other languages - the lack of people to communicate with. For me, time to give it another go.

Passing Fancy 4th June, 2004 03:13:15   [#] [0 comments] 

Competition or Standards?
Russell Degnan

It would be an understatement to say the ICC has a mixed record when it comes to administering the game it is responsible for. But one area where it is doing well is development. Not since the early 1930s have so many teams looked like being capable of taking a step up to test cricket - when the West Indies, New Zealand and India did so in just a few years.

The teams on the cusp - Kenya, Uganda, Nepal, Holland, Scotland - represent a conundrum for the administrators. Are they good enough to play at the next level? Similarly, Bangladesh - who are improving rapidly - Zimbabwe - who aren't - and even (to a far lesser extent) the West Indies raise the issue about teams who aren't to some 'Test' standard.

Scott Wickstein raises this point in relation to Zimbabwe, arguing - rightly - that standards have been lower before, and that Zimbabwe will improve once the politics sorts itself out. But, he also argues (there and elsewhere) that previous nations have gradually improved to test standard after long periods of mediocre cricket, and that - given suitable opportunities - a team can be expected to be 'competitive'. The problem is, introducing more teams - as will happen unless the ICC gets cold feet and scuttles cricket's outward expansion - will break this habit.

When looking at New Zealand - and unfortunately my ratings are otherwise unavailable right now - it is less accurate to say they improved gradually than to say they've had several peaks, the first three of which were progressively higher than that previous. In the early 1950s, the early 1970s, and a highpoint in the mid-1980s. They were at a pathetically low ebb in 1996 before rebounding strongly today. Zimbabwe is similar. The Australia beating team of 1983 was stronger than 1987. The team who got test status in 1992 was young and promising, but peaked in the late 1990s. In both nations cricket is a fringe sport, dependent on a few talents occuring at infrequent intervals to move them to a higher level.

The next crop of Test nations will be similarly hamstrung. The bulk of the generation of Kenyan cricketers who made the semi-final of the last World Cup are already in their mid-late 30s. They have missed their chance to play at the higher level. The next group may not be as talented, and it may be years before Kenya reaches a truly competitive standard again.

If cricket is looking for a good model, they could do worse than look at the Davis Cup, which promotes and relegates teams each year, and keeps a solid contingent in the 'World Group'. In that spirit, plans have been mooted for a three-tier system for test cricket. The ICC Intercontinental Cup is also designed to get teams of similar standard playing each other. Both of them are excellent initiatives (although I still disapprove of a 'league' system for Test cricket for reasons I'll go into another day).

But two points need to be remembered.

One, standards are entirely arbitrary, and only relevant in relation to who you are playing. Top bowlers can make otherwise fine batsmen look ordinary. Great batsmen likewise to otherwise fine bowlers. What is important is competition. Zimbabwean cricket is a problem because they are completely outclassed at the moment. They need to step down a level to rebuild.

Two, in any country - by which we mean almost everyone except a few elite nations - where cricket is a fringe sport, it will be common for standards to fluctuate from year to year. The history of teams in the World Group of the Davis Cup is of a few core nations - the USA, Australia, Sweden, Spain - and of others moving in and out depending on the talents and form of their top players. While cricket has larger teams, a few key players can carry a side from pathetic to mediocre, or from mediocre to competitive - George Headley, Bert Sutcliffe, Richard Hadlee, even Andy Flower and Muralitharan. But these talents will come and go, and the fortunes of their teams will with them.

The ICC needs to be more flexible in terms of who gets to play whom, and when, so as to maintain competitive games, and more importantly, encourage development in improving countries - noone is served by cricketers moving to gain their chance at test cricket a la Graeme Hick. The current rigid caste system doesn't provide for good competition. In fact, it actively encourages mismatches in the name of 'opportunity', while working against the second tier of emerging nations. To view current developments, it looks like the changes are coming, but it can't be fast enough. For once, the ICC needs to actually administer the game.

Idle Summers 2nd June, 2004 03:12:40   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: XXXI, May 2004
Russell Degnan

The light is perfect for photography at this time of year. This is the west-end of Flinders Lane, last year.

Melbourne Town 1st June, 2004 01:35:21   [#] [0 comments]