Saturday, July 27, 2013

Learning Python on the cheap: Community Service

Time now for another community service. Today I post some links to sites that offer free online Python instruction. What follows has already been previously been posted in one form or another elsewhere. However, I find the resources so good that I cannot refrain from flagging them.

Everyone has their own learning preferences. For me, it's books of course; so I went researching for possible textbooks. After a while it turned out that one didn't have to fork any money for some of the better regarded books on the matter as these were, and still are, offered legally for free online.

Think Python

This one was the best suited for me as I already had a bit of programming experience. Best part is that it includes exercises. Skipped Ch4 as I couldn't get the module running but it's safe to do so.


Learn python the hard way

I didn't quite like the approach, but it's the easiest of the bunch.

Dive into python

The Python tutorial


There are surely tons of instructional videos out there. Check those out if you prefer that media. Also take a look at the courses offered in ItunesU.

See if there are any live courses in your community centre.

Happily enough, all of the online books mentioned above display handsomely on a kindle ereader. If you can lay your hands on the larger screen dx, the experience gets even better.

Also ask around to see if your school/local library/organization/company has access to Safari Books or Ebrary. The first one holds all the O'Reilly books plus much, much more. The second one has many of the other standard books. The subscription fees for both are quite steep, but maybe you already have the right though your institution.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Costume History (Le Costume Historique) by Racinet

Sometimes it is difficult to imagine what people were like in the past, not only on outlook & beliefs, but on more basic aspects as well. What they wore is one of these.  Back in the XIX century Racinet among others made a study of the history of costume  and Le costume Historique is the result.

There are at least three different editions of this work by Taschen: the humongous 2003 deluxe tome, the 2009 white cover edition and the 2012 two volume edition. I got the 2009. Though still somewhat large in size it is now quite manageable compared with the 2003.

The collection itself consists on hundreds of dressed figures covering from antiquity (Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome) to the nineteenth century across cultures and social strata. Understandably, the largest portion of the book is destined to Europe and France in particular. A significant portion is devoted to arms and military outfit. There are also illustrations of various settings, such as the villa, the castle, the court. The illustrations are fair-sized, very detailed and cleanly reproduced.

The biggest caveat though, which I believe  is not  particular to this edition only, is the poor illustration reference key. It appears that Racinet wrote extensive commentaries on all or most of the figures. This info is not to be found here. The editors thought the commentary  too long and instead of that we get the illustrations all right but with laconic explanations. Couldn't they have offered a bit more, at least the headings for each figure? I feel cheated by this, but then again I'm the one to blame for not checking. One can get by by logic and educated guesswork  on some cases, but this is not always so. Oh, also the font is too small which can be a great hindrance for some readers. The cover also offers cause for complaint as can be soiled quite easily.

By itself, if you can look past the cons, it is a recommended book, particularly if you like fashion, ethnography, history or work on cinema or theater. Bear in mind that it is mostly eye-candy as it is.

There must be a good alternative out there. A first try is What People Wore When by Melissa Leventon. This repackages many of Racinet original images mixing in some by Hottenroth into a timeline. Though cheaper than Racinet it only uses a third of all available images (my estimate). On better footing is Histoire du Costume (20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment) by Fran├žois Boucher which might be it. On the plus side it has way more text, extends into the twentieth century and includes photos. However, it is comparatively shorter on actual images. On the same vein is A History of Costume by Kohler which is more analytically inclined. These last two are more scholarly and in a sense oppose the current image oriented Racinets. If English costume is your thing go for Historic Costuming by Truman (b&w). Finally, if you anyway love eye-candy, get Fashion (2 vols) by the Kyoto Costume Institute. This has close-up photos of museum pieces and the fabrics look oh, so beautiful.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Look at Darjeeling no.3: First Flush

Picking up from where we left last time with the Golden Tips of Darjeeling, today we taste the higher  grade  of the pair: the First Flush.  Golden Tips has plenty  premium teas for sale, but this one appears not be quite on that category though it is a bit more expensive than the Kanchan view and in a smaller package.  

I sent a message to the Golden Tips people through there website to know more about the teas I had with me (Kanchan, and First Flush) before review, but received no answer. Like the previous teas on this series, there is no indication of leaf grading.

So well. When opening the First Flush packet I expected to find something similar to the Kanchan in size and color, but instead I was surprised with almost silvery leaves. For a moment I thought that it might be white tea, but on brewing the first pot, I discovered that it was something quite out of my experience.  Not white tea definitely; but something  in between black and green that defies my precise identification. Gets close to an honest black, but doesn't quite get there on liquor aspect or taste. The brew color, in fact is quite clear with the color of fresh straw moving a bit into lemon.

However, the resulting infusion can be quite good. After half a dozen trials I've got to know this one better. It is delicate and sensitive to to brewing time. About 10% more of the usual black tea amount is needed to give it strength, while  a short infusion time must be followed. Around 3 1/2- 4 minutes yield the best results; a faint bitterness shatters the flavor if left any longer. Also, in my experience, it works better when brewed a cup at a time over a whole teapot. Can't explain this.

As said, the taste is delicate, yet not as faint as that of a white tea. No undernotes did I find. The Darjeeling maltiness is more present than in the Kanchan View, but still comparatively subdued.

So far, this has been the best Darjeeling of the ones I've tasted.