Lesson about gesture drawing

Today I watched John Muir Law’s workshop about gesture sketching, that focused on the preparation phase of a drawing: getting proportions right, identifying useful reference lines, blocking shapes, all before diving into details. It put together a lot of tips and gave many occasions to test these by copying from pictures. It is quite useful to learn to put the sketch together rather quickly, for the cases when the subject is an animal that moves fast.

Here is the sheet of paper that I filled while watching the video (notes both in English and Italian, as the video was in English but I write faster in Italian!):

IMG_20180216_163524

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FOSDEM 2018: the talks I followed

FOSDEM

As promised, here is my post about the talks I managed to attend at FOSDEM this year. I must say that I was interested in only two talks when I went through the schedule, and both were part of the Community devroom. It was sort of expected for me, as I am currently not active in software development. But when I entered the Community devroom (after a long queue!) I decided to stay for a few more talks, that proved interesting and thought-provoking.

The first talk I followed was “What community can learn from marketing”, by Matthew Revell. My take home message is manyfold:

  • Marketing and  FOSS community management differ on a few but crucial fundamental principles. Therefore it makes sense to apply marketing’s lessons learned only when the core principles of FOSS projects are respected.
  • Marketing has done great work on the analysis side. Applying its tools to a free and open source projecs can help refine its goals and target userbase.
  • Similarly, marketing puts a lot of importance into planning future development. This attention can prove useful for FOSS projects too.
  • Matthew has been careful in wording his talk with variations of “if you do X, Y will likely happen” rather than “you have to do X”. It helps me filter the possible actions according to their consequences instead of following a protocol.

Then it was the turn of “You’ve Got Some Explaining to Do! So Use An FAQ!” by Simon Phipps and Rich Sands. It was great to listen to them unwind the topic together, with ease and humour! Here are the messages I brought home:

  • FAQs are great to showcase the project’s ideas, and are going to be read and tested by the developers, who will inevitably ask the project to make clear and precise statements.
  • FAQs require the ideas and principles to be transparent to the reader. It must be clear to all project members, especially the leadership, that showing transparency builds trust, even if it is not always easy to do.

I moved to the large La Fontaine room for “Python 3: 10 years later” by Victor Stinner. I’m ashamed to say that I never learned Python 3 properly, and I was so surprised to read that this version is around since so long. The release strategy was not really made to push for the new major version, so a lot of production code has not been migrated. Given the growing amount of user-provided packages, and the multiple options for distributing a Python app, the actual drop of Python 2.x doesn’t look imminent, but hopefully will be done more easily than before.

Overall, I got the impression that more speakers than last time were mentioning empathy, and more in general the importance of positive human interactions in the softtware development environment. I think it helps including more people, first of all the users, in the discussions, especially in this time where software users are the majority of the population, and therefore represent a wide variety of personalities and backgrounds. I am hopeful for the future of FOSS, in any form it will take, if it will be considered part of human culture as a whole.

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Welcome to FOSDEM 2018! keynote – slides from the volunteer organiser

A new musical adventure: the trombone

Last Friday I started learning the trombone! My teacher is a musician from my orchestra, with whom I talked about learning a brass instrument at the beginning of last year; as my Montessori diploma course is now over, I have all my Fridays free again and I have again time and energy to dedicate to something new and challenging.

Why the trombone? Well, around ten years ago I started learning the baritone horn, but had to set it aside after a few months to focus on my high school studies. It was a cumbersome and quite heavy instrument, but with a mellow tone, and with the satisfying quality of making my own breath loud and musical. With the other instruments I play, the connection with the breathing is only indirect, so this is the first reason I have started to practice a wind instrument. Another important reason for me is that the position of the notes is not on a line, like on the piano – you go left, they become lower, you go right, they become higher, and each note is only in one place – but they are grouped differently, they repeat themselves along the instrument:

Wirth trombone slide position chart.jpg
Von Adam Wirth (Life time: Not known, not applicable) – Original publication: Posaunen-Schule für Alt, Tenor und Bass-Posaune / Instruction Book of the Simple and Valve-Trombone
Immediate source: http://kimballtrombone.com/trombone-history-timeline/19th-century-second-half/, Gemeinfrei, Link

Recalling a bit of the technique I learned with the euphonium, I was able to play most notes right away. The challenges ahead include developing lip muscles, produce a consistent airflow for at least a full piece, develop speed and precision in finding the notes on the slide. I like how all these goals sound achievable. I’m aware that I won’t become a professional trombonist overnight, but I know I can trace my progress and I can ask my teacher if I feel I am getting stuck.

And besides, the trombone is especially good at being funny:

 

… and finally, for some humour:

 

On giving and receiving feedback

Today I visited a Montessori classroom (around 30 children, 9 to 11 years old) and had the chance to attend a presentation about animal welfare, created by one of the children. First, it was a feast to see how much information she collected, how she organised it into a meaningful sequence, and how she presented, both reading texts written by herself and initiating brief guessing games where all children gladly took part. The presentation lasted almost an hour, and awoke the general curiosity. Many children set precise questions and she answered with sincerity.

Obliques

The most touching part for me was the final feedback from most of the people present, both children and adults (the teacher, the girl’s parents and a few guests including me): it felt sincere, accurate, carefully worded and spontaneous. I have read many articles and books about giving feedback and I thought I knew a lot, but was overwhelmed and almost surprised by how experienced everyone acted in that circle. I was equally moved by the quiet joy of the girl answering with a few words to each person, often with a simple, soft “Thank you”. It felt so right! She did a terrific job, put a lot of effort, time and passion into it, presented it to the whole group with an enviable nonchalance, then her classmates gave her positive feedback and a few points to improve: she deserved to be proud for that. It made me think of the times when my parents scolded me for looking too proud when I received compliments, and I am so glad that this girl, and the other children in that group, can practice this healthy feedback exchange from an early age so that it can become a natural, fully functional part of their growth.

Die Sonne genießen. N'Jumo, Orientalisch Kurzhaar.

Autumn celebration and thought about teaching

Magic Fall

Autumn keeps being my favourite season, with its flamboyant colours, and its connection with school’s start. As a kid, I loved the beginning of school, with all the new books, pens, pencils, the lofty mountain of knowledge ready to be presented to me. The last weeks of summer holidays were filled with expectation and impatience. Even now I welcome the freshening of the air, the discolouring of leaves, the arrival of rain and mist with that same joy.

At the end of October I’ll start again with drum lessons, after a break that lasted a whole year. It’s hard for me to wait for these few more days, because my teacher has that blessed ability to spot what I can already do (no matter how minimal it is! Sometimes it’s just showing up at the lesson, while I’d rather be sleeping on the couch) and then suggests what to build on top of it, letting me learn new skills one step at a time. Others focus on what I can’t do, and urge me to improve moved by guilt, by the obligation to make the best use of my potential. He is currently one of the very few voices in my surroundings that underlines my strengths, in an honest way that I am quick to believe (while some encouragements are too far-fetched to be credible, even if they are totally well-meant), and that concretely motivates me. We don’t talk about that explicitely, but he surely sees how our time together transforms my mood and lets me grow as musician, and I’m sure we both find reward in our common enthusiasm.

Playing drums: notes and movement

Last weekend we worked with our drum teacher on movement while playing the snare drum. Today I thought about the connection between notes and movement, and which one influences the other, in which music styles and in my practice.

Drumline
Drumline – source: marchingbands.wikia.com

I remember having paid attention to movement in itself only in my first year of drum lessons, because I started focusing on technical challenges in reading notes, learning new rhythms and learning to play various percussions. I stopped noticing when I was getting tired and cramped, when the movement was not calibrated well and therefore the notes came out of rhythm. My response was to try harder – cramping even more – and finally give up.

During Saturday’s lesson I understood that if a set of notes is not sounding right, or even is not properly timed, it is very likely that the movements are not correct. I thought about pieces that are written with the movement in mind, from which the notes come out – for example marching band music, especially the more spectacular pieces. I have in mind my beloved Downfall of Paris. Look at Tormod’s hands and arms first, then listen to the music:

This video shows the symetry of movements and is for me a feast for the eyes:

And look at the bass drum players’ movements, especially at the beginning:

The movement has a big influence on the sound itself, because the speed of the stick hitting the drum decides how it will rebound – a light stroke will muffle the note, a faster/stronger stroke will make the stick rebound and produce a cleaner note. The skill of a drummer is being able to guess the movements just by reading the notes, and practice so much that the movement does not need to be adjusted with conscious decisions (a bit like when driving cars). This is made easier in marching music, because the building blocks are not single notes, but basic patterns (the rudiments) that are learned until they become “movement units”.

I feel that I understood something big, that allows me to make progress by spotting myself what I can improve. As with horse riding, I will in any case benefit from “an eye on the ground” and will keep asking for expert advice, but I know I can do a fair amount of work on my own.

 

Book review: “Sachgeschichten”, published by Duden

I regularly check the children section of my local libraries, because I find witty and instructive books written in way that is easy to understand. I appreciated this one a lot:

sachgeschichten

It is edited by Duden, unfortunately out of print. It features several one-page summaries of various topics, with accurate and funny illustrations, followed by two pages of related words. I like the open approach that permeates the book: each topic is presented in its various facets and with a lot of questions, suggesting further research. The final chapters explain how to prepare an oral presentation and a poster, and tips on how to present in front of classmates. I wish I had such a book when I was a kid! My schoolbooks were usually on the oversimplified side, while scientific literature was too complex. I am nevertheless happy to have found it now, because it is a great way to learn German! I noticed that I know around half of the words presented for each topic, so I have a lot to catch up 🙂