Bilateral “Valkyrie” breathing in freestyle swimming

I recently decided to go back to swimming laps after at least two decades of not doing it. I'm slowly getting a bit more in shape. I swim mostly freestyle (a.k.a. the crawl).

Along the way, I read about something I never considered before in the freestyle stroke: bilateral breathing. This is simply a way to develop a stroke rhythm in which you breath the same number of times on each side.

Note that in many other strokes (e.g., breast stroke, butterfly, backstroke), the issue doesn't arise because you breath in the center; in other strokes (e.g., sidestroke), it also doesn't arise because the entire body is in an asymmetric configuration. But in freestyle, the body is in a perfectly symmetric configuration, it's just that I had always been taught to breath on one side.

In my old stroke, I used three kicks per arm stroke, creating a cycle of six kicks/two arms/one breath. This is a very standard freestyle stroke.

In the new stroke, there are still three kicks per arm, but now there is a breath on every third arm stroke, resulting in a cycle of eighteen kicks/six arms/two breaths. I found this a little hard to visualize.

Something that helped me immensely in visualizing how this works is the animation on the main page of Swim Smooth, who sell an iOS app designed to help people do exactly that: visualize the bilateral breathing freestyle stroke.

As I observed this animation, I started thinking about it as a movement pattern, which made my background in choreography and music kick in. I realized that in fact, this was simply a pattern in 9/8 time, also known as “compound triple time”. The arm stroke rhythm would be represented by the main beats (one, two, three) while the kicks would be the three eighth notes per beat (one and uh, two and uh, three and uh). Breathing would occur on the down beat (beat one) of each measure; that is, it would take two 9/8 measures (six counts) for the entire pattern.

Well, when it comes to counting out a movement pattern, there is nothing better than music that fits the pattern. In this case, music in 9/8 time. This is a fairly unusual meter, but it certainly does exist.

The best example I could find was the famous theme to Wagner's The Ride of the Valkyries. Listen to it here (there is some introductory material before the theme is played by the horns). This famous melody conforms perfectly to the bilateral freestyle.

This morning, I tried it out at the pool. It worked perfectly. I was able to swim a fairly smooth, rhythmic bilateral crawl while “playing” the Valkyrie theme in my head, taking a breath on each downbeat (and therefore on every third arm stroke and every ninth kick).

I think this little trick could be used to good advantage by others to learn patterns of movement that have a regular rhythmic structure, and I certainly recommend that it be used by swimmers wanting to learn bilateral breathing. It also helps to see the movement while mentally playing the melody, and for this, the animation I mentioned above was very helpful (their app turns out to be even better, since it allows the stroke to be seen from different angles).



I'm not sure what to call my approach to single-dish cooking. It's what I've used probably 5-6 times per week for many years, with considerable variations. In the past, I called it, jokingly, “slop”.

Today, I did some Google research, and found that while it is similar to pilaf and risotto, it is most similar to jambalaya, so that's what I think I'm going to call it henceforth. But it's pretty far removed from your conventional jambalaya. In my version, it is cooked using the no-oil method (it is “water-fried”). It is also low sodium and relatively low in carbohydrates. Because of its no-oil and lo-carb nature, maybe I'll call it “jamba-lo-no”, if I can stand it.

There are many varieties of this, mostly depending on what kind of stuff I have around. Here is the version I just ate today for lunch; it's fairly typical.

I took some little mushrooms and washed them and then sprinkled them with Fiesta seasoning and some garlic powder while they were still wet, and set them aside.

I scrubbed a carrot and a couple of fingerling sweet potatoes and cut them into 1/2 inch chunks.

I washed some broccoli and some collards and cut the broccoli into florets and tore the collards into chunks roughly 1 inch square.

I smashed a clove of garlic, chopped up some onion, and washed and chopped up a serrano pepper.

I opened a can of water-packed sardines and drained off the excess water. (The sardines are not a requirement at all. Sometimes I use tempeh or tofu, for example, or rinsed pre-cooked black beans.)

In a small bowl, I mixed 1/8 cup of soy grits, 1T of oat bran, 1T mixed grain cereal, and 1t wheat bran.

In a skillet, I put in 1 c of drinking water and the carrots and sweet potatoes, brought the water to a boil, and then reduced heat and simmered, covered, for a few minutes.

I added the broccoli and collards, raised the heat briefly, and then let it simmer a while more.

Now I added 4T of low-sodium, no oil marinara sauce; the sardines; the garlic; the onions; and the serrano pepper. I sprinkled the sardines and vicinity with both Fiesta and a bit of cayenne pepper. I turned the heat up all the way, mixed this around a bit, then put the mushrooms on top, and mixed briefly. Then, I distributed the grain mix around on top of everything, then stirred it together, watching until there was only a bit of liquid left (this only takes maybe 10 s).

I put on the cover and turn the heat all the way off (I have an electric stovetop; with a gas stove, make sure you use a heavy skillet that will retain the heat for a while).

I then go off and do something else for a while. When I come back 10-20 minutes later, the liquid has been absorbed almost completely by the grains. Pour onto a plate and sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese.

The way this dish evolved was through a number of variations, many involving some initial frying of the the veg, then liquid and grains added to it. But the frying, which I tried always to do with a minimum of oil, was sometimes difficult to do, so I hit upon the idea of just using water, putting in the hardest/longest cooking ingredients first, and the grains last. I liked the results so much that I decided I needed a more respectable name for it.

Sorry there's no picture, I ate everything.


Is my French level appropriate for a French conversation group?

Given my level of ability in French, would it be appropriate for me to participate in a conversation group?

There exist various groups that meet regularly (e.g., weekly or monthly) to speak French. The purpose is partly social, but mostly is centered on practicing French. Sometimes the groups meet in a public restaurant or café, or sometimes they meet in such places as a library conference room, a meeting room in a school or some other organization, or less often in members' homes.

Everyone is generally welcome as long as they want to speak French with other people, but these groups are more appropriate for some than for others.

If you are a native speaker of French, you will always be very welcome, even (or perhaps especially) if your French is rusty after many years in Anglophonia. These groups are always much more successful if there is at least one native speaker participating.

If you a native French-speaking recent arrival in Anglophonia, and you want to practice your English or have questions about how things work here, you will almost always find what you need, either directly or indirectly, if you participate in a local French conversation groups.

If you are not a native speaker of French and have never participated in a conversation group before, then the question becomes more difficult. If you are not capable of fairly easy conversation in French, then the conversation group format is obviously not what you need. But how to know if you have sufficient command of the French language in order to have a satisfactory experience in a conversation group?

First, some background. In 2001, the Conseil de l'Europe published a document known as the “CECR” or the “Cadre” (Le Cadre européen de référence pour les langues — Apprendre, Enseigner, Évaluer). Part of this document is a scale used to classify the ability level of language learners. Here is a description of the standard ability levels in this system.

There are many sites on the Internet that offer free online tests of French ability using the Cadre. Note that these are only approximations of the “real” tests, which are not free and are generally given by governments, schools, or by organizations such as the Educational Testing Service (http://www.ets.org/tfi/about). Some but not all of the free online tests include a listening (audio) segment. Since no humans are involved, none include tests of speaking ability. You can find these tests with Google using searches such as test de niveau français en ligne gratuit. Here are some examples:


If you are wondering about your overall level in French, it could be worthwhile for you to take several different online tests (emphasize those that include a listening segment). It is unlikely that you will be at exactly the same level for each test, so you will get some idea of the range of your ability level (within the limitations of online testing). For example, if you score A2,B1,B1, you could think of yourself as roughly a B1-; A2,A2,B1 could be roughly an A2+.

The key here is the oral level. Sometimes, groups will discuss things that participants have read or written, but reading and writing ability is generally much less important than the ability to converse. So, if you tended to have a lower level on tests with relatively more reading and writing, then you might want to weight more highly the scores associated with tests that had a stronger speaking element (and vice versa, of course). Also, if you are a “good test taker” (or “bad at tests”), you should probably lower (raise) your score a notch, since you might have scored higher (lower) than your actual ability level.

If you are at level B2 (Avancé/Indépendant) or higher, then a conversation group will be ideal for you. That said, a motivated B1 (Seuil) or even an A2+ (Intermédiaire/de Survie) with strong conversational ability should be reasonably successful in many conversation groups. If you are A2 or lower, then perhaps you should wait a while before trying a conversation group. If you are at level C1 (Autonome) or higher, then you might find many conversation groups somewhat slow, depending on the levels of the other participants (but you already know that).


Crime and Terrorism

Everyone seems to have some ideas about how terrorism is or isn't a kind of crime, and whether it should be pursued by law enforcement or by the military. For a long time now, faced with the very negative results of America's military pseudo-war against terrorism, I have fallen pretty squarely in the law enforcement camp.

My feeling has been that if, after the attacks in 2001, we had used domestic and international law enforcement to pursue those who attacked us as mass murderers, we would have caught them sooner, caused much less damage, and without making us international pariahs as we became during the Iraq travesty. I still think that.

However, I just had a thought today, after reading an interesting article comparing the American and French approaches to the problem, that has modified my position somewhat (the modification doesn't really have anything to do with the current French versus American approaches, the article was just a trigger).

Here's the thought: if we were to classify acts of terrorism in the same domain as other crimes, where would they fit? Clearly, if we ignore psychology and sociology, they would be right at home with other kinds of mass homicides and gross vandalism. And even if we were to include some psychology, they would still find a seemingly natural fit with the various hate crimes that currently adorn our statutes. But although this looks like a natural classification on the surface, it is not at all satisfying, and it is in exploring the reasons behind this dissatisfaction that my new way of thinking has emerged.

When you consider crime, simple actions, while relevant, are never determinative. Any action associated with a crime can be performed with no criminal liability or implication, depending on the motive. That is, the why of an action is just as important as the action itself when it comes to criminality. This is equally true for terrorist acts. However, the goals that motivate terrorism do not match any other crime.

Instead, the goals of terrorism (destabilizing the state, trying to change or to overturn governments, harming the economy, or persecuting a specific group within a state) are much more naturally associated with warfare, not crimes.

And yet, they do not fall naturally in the realm of military activity either. Wars are battles between states, or in the exceptional case of a civil war, between two strong factions within a state who are battling for the control of that state. This is not what terrorists do. In fact, we make a strong distinction between sabotage and guerilla warfare versus terrorism; the difference is primarily that in the latter case, there are no countries at war with each other.

So terrorism doesn't really fit nicely into either the criminal or the military domain. In other words, the answer original question as to whether terrorism is criminal or military, is “yes”. Or “no”. That is, it is neither and both of the above.

I continue to believe, however, that traditional police methods, including international police methods, are better suited to the pursuit of terrorists than military methods, mostly because the scale and the tactics of terrorists are much more similar to those of criminals than to those of armies. On the other hand, since the whole purpose of terrorism is to threaten a state; that is, terrorism is an attack on the state, qualitatively similar to an attack by another nation's army, the normal rules governing law enforcement may not be appropriate; instead, the rules governing warfare are probably more appropriate.

What I would like to see is a removal of the military from our efforts to protect and defend the nation against terrorism, to be replaced by a strong, special branch of law enforcement at the national level that operates using a blend of civil and military procedures. Obviously, we are still fighting down our invasion of Afghanistan, so our military can't just walk away from that war. But it is winding down and will end soon. When it does end, then we need to get our military back on track as a war-fighting force, not a police force.

The United States will be far more hampered that most countries in any effort to make this particular change, because in the US, law enforcement is usually a local or statewide affair, with federal law enforcement applying only in certain restricted types of cases (crimes taking place across state lines, kidnappings, crimes involving the military or federal personnel or property, and so on). It's a matter of limited jurisdiction resulting from our out-dated constitution, that constitutes 51 sovereign states sharing and competing within a single nation. It should be mentioned that the military (which is controlled by the federal government) is similarly restricted in its operations within our borders. Therefore, a new force that was created to fight terrorism using law enforcement techniques but bound by military-style rules regarding procedure would be a considerable extension of the federal government, and would probably be objected to by our states-rights zealots.

Now, in the early Bush years, a new department of Homeland Security was created with the purpose of unifying law enforcement against terrorist threats. The so-called PATRIOT act did, in fact, alter procedure by reducing some civil protections. However, I think that much more than this is necessary.

First, this should be separated from normal law enforcement, because of the differences in procedures. As it is now, the PATRIOT act has opened the door for civilian law enforcement to use new techniques for matters not related to terrorism, for example, drug enforcement. If the new laws applied only to the new law enforcement branch, not to ordinary civilian law enforcement, those kinds of erosion of civil rights would be much less. (On the other hand, there would be definite erosions of civil rights in anti-terrorism enforcement.)

It would all come down to whether those erosions would be justified by the threat of terrorism in ways they are not justified by the threat of criminal violence. I think some changes could in fact be justified on the grounds that an attack on the state itself rather than on persons and property merits a much stronger, more military-like response. However, there is a danger of abuse and so we need to have protections built in, just as there are protections built into the military system: strict rules of engagement, an explicit military code of conduct, and an independent judicial system designed to keep efforts within bounds.


BigPic comment archive

Si vous êtes un lecteur du blog Big Picture de Corine Lesnes sur lemonde.fr, la possibilité existe que vous avez remarqué que les commentaires ont la mauvaise habitude de disparaître. Ce n'est pas du tout amusant. Je ne sais pas la raison, si c'est à cause d'une politique du journal ou d'une faille technique du logiciel. J'ai décidé d'inventer un contournement.

C’est pour Macintosh seulement, et c’est inélégant. Mais ça marche.

Il faut premièrement installer un petit script dans votre dossier Sites. Je l’appelle « curlBigPic.ksh ». C’est comme suit :


# keep an archive of the last NSAMP BigPic comments

NSAMP=200 # a little more than a two days worth of 15 minute samples


mkdir -p $DB

cd $DB

newf=`date -u +"%Y.%m.%d-%Hh%M"`

prev=`ls | head -1`

if [[ -e "$prev" ]] ; then

rm -f `ls -r *.xml | tail -n +$((NSAMP-1))`


if ! curl --connect-timeout 20 --max-time 30 --silent \

http://clesnes.blog.lemonde.fr/comments/feed/ > /tmp/curlBigPic.$$ ; then

exit $?


if [[ -e "$prev" ]] ; then

if ! cmp -s "$prev" /tmp/curlBigPic.$$ ; then

mv /tmp/curlBigPic.$$ $newf.xml


rm -f /tmp/curlBigPic.$$



Il ne faut que copier-coller ces lignes dans un fichier de ce nom, mais faites attention : il faut être « texte seulement », pas de rtf, doc, ou quoi que ce soit d’autre.

Après l’installation, il faut exécuter une commande dans Terminal :

cd Sites ; chmod +x curlBigPic.ksh

Finalement, il faut créer un crontab, avec la commande suivante :

crontab -e

Une sorte d’éditeur ouvrira ; il faut y mettre la ligne suivante :

0,15,30,45 * * * * ~/Sites/curlBigPic.ksh

NB : il n’y a pas d’espaces dans cette ligne, ce sont des tab. Les chiffres sont les minutes de téléchargement, par exemple 10h00, 10h15, 10h30, 10h45.

Pour éviter les blocages, je suggère que chacun choisisse une compensation de 1-14 minutes, par exemple :

3,18,33,48 * * * * ~/Sites/curlBigPic.ksh

Dans les Sharing Preferences, activer « Web Sharing ». J’ignore les noms en français, désolé. C’est pour activer le serveur web de votre compte.

Toutes les 15 minutes, votre ordinateur va télécharger un fichier XML avec un sommaire des commentaires le plus récents.

Dans Safari, ouvrez l’URL « http://localhost/~VOTRENOM/bigpicdb ». Par exemple, j’utilise « http://localhost/~greg/bigpicdb/ ».

Une page ouvrira qui dit « Index of /~VOTRENOM/bigpicdb ». Dans cette page, tous les fichiers XML seront montrés. Les noms des fichiers sont la date et l’heure du téléchargement (en UTC). Notez bien que si un fichier est égal au précédent, il n’est pas installé. Safari comprend les RSS en format XML, donc, si vous cliquez sur l’un des liens, il ouvrira avec les plus récents commentaires à l’heure de téléchargement. De cette manière, vous pouvez chercher parmi tous les commentaires des derniers jours. Il est possible que ce script manque un commentaire, si HAL est très rapide. Si cela arrive trop souvent, on peut télécharger les XML plus fréquemment.

Je crois qu’il serait mieux pour le script d’être sur un seul serveur où tous peuvent aller chercher leurs commentaires perdus, mais je ne le veux pas sur les miens. Désolé encore. Mais, si quelqu’un a le contrôle d’un serveur et la volonté de se joindre à la lutte contre les abus de HAL, ce serait la bienvenue.