to links pages 
phone texts to 00 36 30 301 0712 & 00 44 794 792 6614
Sunday. An online version of one of those art directors' magazines that sit around in the lobbies of ad agencies, counterpointing the disturbing furniture.
Saturday. 3 or 4 days ago, landlady asked me to photograph the gas meter, so I snapped it with a copy of that day's newspaper pegged on, as if it was a kidnap victim. That green-papered daily still sits around the flat, taunting me to make it into something papier mache.
Friday. Two excellent short films by a slightly overperky science explainer, first about Zipf's Law, and with admirable ambition, the Banach-Tarski Theorem.
Thursday. Akos & I have a beer over the road. He explains how futile making a business case for new workflow & testing software is. Nice little animation about another cellular automaton: Langton's ant.
Wednesday. Entertaining rant hails the death of some cuisine fad I didn't know was born.
Tuesday. Go with Mohammad M. to an evening talk by an English philosopher Tom Stoneham. Stoneham, with a careful sympathetic style, tries to outline a view of his own he calls 'objectualism', with which he hopes to unpick G.E. Moore's claim that distinguishing 'pink' from 'experiencing pink' entails a contradiction. The goal seems to be to do away with 'experiencing pink' as a separate category altogether ("My view is that perception is the paradigm case of consciousness, but that perceiving does not involve a mental state"). Stoneham in his open-necked white shirt is very charming, joking about how empty he feels himself to be when he denies all the rich inner experiences other people believe they have. Going the full distance, the final sentence of his 5-page hand-out slips in that this view (perceiving not involving a mental state) entails dreams being fictitious entities, experiences that none of us in reality have. "The objectualist ---den[ies] that it seemed to the dreaming/hallucinating subject as if F was being perceived: the reports of dreams and hallucinations, however couched in 'seems' and 'as if' qualifiers, are false." Naturally, I ask for clarification afterwards, and Stoneham confirms that yes, he really claims that dreams don't exist as experiences. I ask if he means that we rapidly fabricate a false memory of having experienced a dream narrative in the instant of waking, and he hesitates, looking mildly ill at ease, saying only that there's no evidence we dream at all. This of course means 'evidence' in a sense in which first-person uncorroborated accounts never count as evidence, because I think I woke out of rather vivid dreams every morning this week, but of course have no-one & nothing else to back me up there. I thank him for his clear answer, privately relieved to find another closely-argued view I needn't take seriously. Then a woman academic insists her dog dreams, they chuckle about whether the dog's twitching limbs really show a narrative experience of running, and Stoneham cheerily says "Well if the dog could talk -" to general laughter. Of course, I'm a dog that can talk and my unsupported testimony wasn't good enough a moment earlier, but no worries. Mohammad and I sneak out of the room during final applause in search of another coffee somewhere nearby.
Monday. Photo of girl and bit of London everyone wants to live in: wait - is she in front of a backdrop, or is the sky really that dark?
Sunday. Two upbeat 1970s party tunes sandwich lotus-eating mantra:
It Ain't Fair But It's Fun /
Cheeba Cheeba /
Thieves in the Funkhouse.
Saturday. Tiresome headcold continues. I want to find a way to make bacteria & viruses pay rent. Articulate long-form essay about Russian romance versus perky 45-second monologue (*warning*) about American hedonism. Note sceptical chatshow person with laptop.
Friday. Over 100 people killed in Paris by a co-ordinated set of terrorist attacks, apparently Islamist, claimed by Daesh.
Thursday. Rumours growing that Apple deliberately slows down old iPhones / Someone Hungarian-sounding might have found how to solve the graph-matching problem in quasi-P-time / Household machines are ganging up on you / Facebook deliberately slack on taking down copyright violations?
Wednesday. Forget peak oil supply, are we at peak oil demand?
Tuesday. Women use funny deep voices for status? Surely not.
Monday. New study: The New Deal prolonged The Great Depression?
Sunday. High-IQ Eurocrats have decided that hyperlinks are wicked.
Saturday. One article denounces parallel universes as a fantasy, another claims one or more are real enough to be "leaking" into our universe.
Friday. Slavering Slavoj explains why Calvinism is the Christian sect he, a Marxist atheist, most approves of.
Thursday. Following yesterday's lead, here's + a lush, compelling film trailer. For anyone who likes any of: foggy permafrost, John Hurt, emotional drama, mysterious distant planets, or meticulous close-ups. How to pull an audience into a story & a character.
Wednesday. Antarctic gaining ice. A mini-ice-age?
Tuesday. Online college courses don't suddenly transform us.
Monday. This article says the Palestinian/Israeli problem is really about holy sites.
Sunday. Wander over to the graveyard for the usual evening stroll this All Saints' Day. Unlike Hallowe'en-observing countries, Hungarians feel it is tonight that the membrane between this and the next world is thinnest, that tonight is the night of the year when the dead roam abroad and wish to be remembered. Though it isn't too chilly among the candlelit tombstones and mausoleums, I'm still living without style or grace, wearing shoes without socks in cold weather, so I don't spend too long in the misty dusk with the groups of wreath-bearing relatives. A girl tells me one unlabelled mini-temple with giant cement cherubs is in honour of late-19th-century music-hall singer Lujza Blaha. Already a big junction named after her.
Recent weblog entries
Who can translate the next 300 words into
us and there will be revelry.
Languages dying out each week
- who cares?
We do - otherlanguages.org is gradually building a reference resource for over five thousand linguistic minorities and stateless languages worldwide.
Thousands of unique language communities are becoming extinct. Out of the world's five to six thousand languages, we hardly know what we're losing, what literatures, philosophies, ways of thinking, are disappearing right now.
We may soon regret the extinction of thousands of entire linguistic cultures even more than we regret the needless extinction of many animals and plants.
The planet is increasingly dominated by a handful of major-language monocultures like Mandarin
Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese,
English, Swahili, Russian, Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, Bengali - all
beautiful and fascinating languages.
But so are the 5,000 others.
These are groups of people?
Linguistic minorities are communities of ordinary people whose native tongue is not their country's main official language. Swedish speakers in Finland, French speakers in Canada, Hungarian speakers in Slovakia - and hundreds more - are linguistic minorities.
And totally stateless languages are the native languages of some of the world's most intriguing, little-known, cultures. Like the Lapps inside the Arctic Circle, the Sards in Sardinia, Ainus in Japan. Cherokee in the US, Scots
Gaelic in Britain, Friesian in the Netherlands, Zulu in South Africa.
There are only a couple of hundred recognised sovereign states and territories, so 5,000 languages - more depending on how you count - are the native tongues of linguistically stateless people.
How could I help?
You don't need to learn an endangered
language - any more than go to live in the rainforest to help slow its destruction.
A good start is to just tell friends
about websites like this.
Broader public interest makes it easier
for linguists to raise funds and organise people to learn these languages while there's time.
That's right. There are people who love languages and are happy to learn them on behalf of the rest of us, but they need support, just like zoologists, botanists, or historians.
Fewer languages still sounds good to me
Depends what you think languages are for. They're not just a tool for business. We never said you should learn three or four thousand rare languages - or even one. And which ones we make children learn in school, or whether we should force children to learn languages at all, is another question.
Typical scene in a European city;
Chances are, folk here speak some sort of foreign
A century ago - before we understood
ecology, and when we cared less about wilderness, most educated
people would have laughed at the idea of worrying about plants or
animals going extinct. Now we understand how important species diversity
is for our own futures, we are more humble, and more worried.
In the same way, linguistic triumphalism by English-speakers who hated studying foreign grammar at school is dangerously ignorant as well as arrogant. Few of us know what we are losing, week by week.
How many people realise these languages have scientific value?
You can think of these languages across the planet as beautiful cathedrals or
precious archeological sites we are watching being destroyed. That
should be motive enough.
But these five thousand languages may
also hold clues to the structure of the human mind. Subtle
differences and similarities
between languages are helping
archeologists and anthropologists to
understand what happened in the hundreds
of centuries of human
history before written history. And
that is one of our best chances of understanding how human brains developed over the thousands of centuries leading up to that.
Wireless radio can be a great comfort to those unable
to leave the
textbooks in which they live *6
Study of the mind and study of language go hand in hand these days. The world's most marginal languages are actually precious jigsaw pieces from an overall picture of who we are and how our species thinks and evolves. Every tiny language adds another brightly-coloured clue to this academic detective story.
Yet researchers have hardly started sifting through this
tantalising evidence, and language extinction is washing it away right in
front of us.
And worst of all, most people have no idea that there is this
fantastic profusion of cultures across our world, let alone that
they are in danger of extinction. Even just more people learning that
there are still five thousand living languages in the world today (most
of us would answer five hundred or fifty) is already a huge help.
We English-speakers hardly notice English - it's like air for us.
But every other language is also an atmosphere for an entire cultural world,
and each of these worlds has people whose home it is. Each language encapsulates a unique way of talking and thinking about life. Just try some time in a foreign prison, being forced to cope in another language, and you'll realise how much your own language is your identity. That's true for everyone.
Minority languages are a
One of the most basic.
Dozens of millions of people worldwide suffer persecution from national governments for speaking their mother tongue - in their own motherland.
Many 'ethnic' feuds puzzling to
outsiders had as their basis an attempt to destroy a linguistic community.
Would the Northern Ireland dispute be quite so bitter if we
English had not so nearly stamped out the Irish Gaelic language, for
example? Almost nowhere in the world does a language community as
small as the few thousand Rheto-Romanic speakers - the fourth
official language of Switzerland - get the protection of a national
government. Next time you see some Swiss Francs, check both sides of the
But outside exceptional countries like
Switzerland or the Netherlands, speakers of non-official
languages have a much less protected experience.
Speakers of minority languages are often seen as a threat by both the governments and the other residents of the countries where they were born, grew up, and try to live ordinary lives.
They experience discrimination in the job and education markets of their homelands, often having no choice but to pursue education in the major language of the host state: a deliberate government policy usually aimed at gradually absorbing them into the majority culture of that country.
Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, of course *7
Most governments are privately gleeful each time another small
separate culture within their borders is snuffed out by a dwindling
population or a deliberately centralising education system.
The United Nations is no help. It is an association of a couple of hundred sovereign states based on exclusive control of territory, almost all of them anxious to smother any distinct group or tradition that in any way might blur or smudge the hard-won borders around those pieces of territory.
The usual approach by sovereign states is to deny their linguistic minorities even exist.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
*1 image from , with thanks
back up to top of page
*2 "Al-Araby" in written
*3 "What?" in American Sign
Language; image from , with thanks
*4 "Big" in written
(read more); image from , with
*5 image from , with
*6 image from , with
*7 image from
'B?ume', with thanks to
Bruno P. Kramer,
and Franckh-Kosmos Verlag
Saturday. Hallowe'en, not as important here in Hungary as their less cartoonish holiday tomorrow, the more solemn Day of the Dead. Striking a suitably eerie, strange-noises-in-the-night note of foreboding, however, here's a detailed article on net neutrality. Surprise, surprise, the telecoms who have to maintain and pay for all the wires & switches the free internet runs on want compensation. Economists are harsh about what they call 'rent seeking' but you can see the telecoms' point. Well, some of us can. I've been telling people the solution for years, but no-one wants to hear it of course. Netflix pays digital ransom to carrier Comcast.
Friday. Now it's darker even earlier in the evenings. Super. Interesting article points out how suffragette violence got airbrushed out of history, suggesting that the firebombings & phosphorous attacks make it comparable to other terrorist movements. Meanwhile, Russian submarines seem to be loitering near bits of crucial undersea cable in a calculated bid to rattle the Americans.
Thursday. Rheumatology Kata on good form. One of several articles recently noting how the Digital Book Take Over is floundering, as I said 5 years ago it would. Continuing the po-mo theme, two history-tipsy music videos run into one.
Wednesday. Clips of video from that Burning Man festival (a Wicker Man reference?)
like an updated Butlins or Pontins except with more desert: slightly shy white people having fun being a bit silly.
Tuesday. I pass the closed-down cafe in the morning, and whereas yesterday it was empty, today it's full of stacked furniture & boxes. By the early evening it has become a sort of ice-cream bar, with everything in place, seemingly open for business. American comedian explains why he hates bats & the countryside & "dark mystery". My dreams are still intense in a new way, as if I'm eavesdropping or going elsewhere.
Monday. Art curators home in on the occult.
Sunday. Clocks move back, so here is a movie trailer about it. In other time-travel news, a wonderful lecture on how the great Lucretius poem survived into modern times.
Saturday. Pop over to see Robin & Sara near Oktogon for a lovely dinner. Wired on black coffee, I burble about the impatient tempo of fidgety Hawaiian cha-cha rhythms in 60s & 70s
theme tunes (as opposed to more operatic Bond movie music), along with other thrilling
topics. Meanwhile, there is really no introducing this next bit, so here is click-o-tron.
Friday. Donald Trump is being hailed as a visionary prophet for "foreseeing the 2001 attacks" and Ilan sends me some video of cattle auctioneers who speak quickly.
Thursday. Apparently in Switzerland foil caps from disposable restaurant cream thingies featuring famous folk such as Hitler or Mussolini are collectors' items.
Wednesday. At some point last week, a huge geyser of cold water was jetting up out of the pavement on the corner for a couple of hours. Blasting at least 20 feet up past the ceilings of the first floor (ground floors in older buildings here often have grand high ceilings with upper floors also moderately high) it had created a 2-inch-deep river surging west through the crossroads. Presumably a burst water main, but striking to see how much pressure there was behind it. My memory of Britain is that burst water mains there gurgle up about three inches at most. Another illiberal law aims to control the press in Britain, and here, I suppose, is the sort of thing they might want to restrict. Fake ads mock Kellogs.
Tuesday. The week before last the cafe on the corner suddenly closed down. I went in on a Tuesday, I think a fortnight ago today, and was told by the two Afghan brunettes that it was the cafe's last day. Some sudden strangeness meant the owner and landlord (seemingly) had a disagreement on the Friday 3 days earlier, and that was that. The very next day, Wednesday, the premises were stripped of furniture and had men in overalls in there standing around looking at ladders. Notice periods don't seem to carry much weight in Hungary.
Monday. Cashiers continue to show astonished delight at my 3-week-old paper wallet. A bit more elaborate than Ilan's elegantly simple single-A4-sheet paper wallet that he remakes every week with fresh paper like a Shinto temple, mine is probably good to hold together for another week I suppose.
Sunday. 4 or 5 days ago there was a small drama at the nearby weights gym. A quite cute nymph-like girl in a cutaway black gym top was there toiling away on various machines, beaming with confident smiles to all & sundry, and showing she was with the mild-mannered muscular lad (one of the two owners I think, perhaps brothers) by oh-so-casually wandering behind the reception counter at intervals to mix herself nutrient milk shakes. Two days later I was there again and so was she and so was the possible brother/owner but somehow the mood had changed. Far less of the happy smiling. Finally she was changed into street clothes with her bag and was hovering inside the doorway for a full five minutes, about to leave. She clearly wanted him to go and see her off, say goodbye etc. He snubbed the hint and vaguely waved her away, refusing to move from one machine where he was advising a male lifter on technique. The girl quietly left by herself, visibly crestfallen.
Saturday. Lovely breakfast with Annika, over from Sweden. We talk about dreams, films, and islands in the Baltic.
Friday. Yesterday Mr Dentist repaired my cracked root-canal cap from only two years ago, finding caries inside, which he kindly ground out before resealing. Meanwhile, something clever for fans of Conway's beautiful 2D universe, The Game of Life, one of the cellular automata that got me all excited just before college. Here's a nifty 90-second film showing how 'Life' can be simulated within 'Life', so to speak.
Thursday. Fascinating new theory about Plato.
Wednesday. Click here for your Corporate Meeting buzz phrase.
Tuesday. US Navy reintroduces sextants.
Monday. Group Selection Redux: an evolutionary theorist writes.
Sunday. More rain. Our man in Bucharest looks over the scholarship on Mohammad's life.
Saturday. Some sage words of caution about wunderkind de jour Elon Musk. Are the man & his miracles overbought?
Friday. Very interesting radio interview about people who score well at predicting the future: superforecasters.
Thursday. Rainy weather returns. Realised recently some people have never heard of French 1950s and 60s comedian Jacques Tati. Here he is in a short piece of film where he just waits in real time in a waiting room. Of course he is mocking the spare, rectilinear minimalism of the modernist room, about as unwelcoming to people as a space can be. Yet his own mime humour is also quite austere and spartan, so accurately and painstakingly observed that it's no longer really comedy. For comparison, some newer English comedy also so clever as to not actually be funny. But Tati's super-realistic physical wit, somehow both highbrow and lowbrow at the same time, sometimes made people laugh: here, Tati shows TV interviewer Parkinson in 1971 how English policemen direct traffic differently from French policemen.
Wednesday. Something slightly eerie on the trams this week. The weather has chilled, and enormous numbers of sleek girls are suddenly everywhere in surprisingly good mood. Hungarians usually sulk when autumn puts an end to their long warm summer, but today it is as if the showing-off section of the fairer sex welcomes the opportunity to change into their winter-weather wardrobe. Or something. Another article about weather & climate - this from a Western Australian researcher who has a plausible explanation for why other models have failed to fit the decade-and-a-half pause in global warming we've seen this century.
Tuesday. Britain now has a Dutch-Elm-Disease-proof strain of elm.
Monday. Interesting article about Churchill's prewar career in terms of his close friendship with F.E. Smith. A nice overview of several competing weather-prediction models. A disappointing, unimpressive set of illustrations from 1900 of what life would be like in 2000, very much projecting their world forward, with clothing styles virtually unchanged. The idea the future would have small flying machines and helicopters everywhere was common back then: everyone knew they were coming. Mechanised agriculture another obvious thing to expect. The eccentric images of people dancing with underwater creatures at the end show the artist got bored with the task and couldn't even come up with the agreed number of images.
Sunday. With almost all shops closed every Sunday since early this year, I've started wondering if this was some kind of apology from Hungary's Peronist government to the small corner shops so damaged by the creation of the tobacco retail monopoly in mid-2013. One of the scruffy but useful 24-hour shops near me had to close within six months of losing the right to sell cigarettes, one of their main staples. Other of the shops which used to be on every block open day and night selling tea, coffee, sugar, cigarettes, alcohol, a few other basics, seem to have disappeared too since the official tobacco outlets arrived. Closing the major supermarkets but not the small stores each Sunday might be an attempt to make up for that. A simple change like losing the all-night corner shops can tip the balance of pros and cons a city offers.
Saturday. Must be about 3 or 4 years now that the Hungarian personal pronouns have been painted in giant crisp-edged sanserif letters on both sides of each leg of the ugly concrete flyover bridge at Nyugati. Each letter is in different pastel colours, and it is quite odd riding the tram under the flyover looking at the huge words for You, We, They, I passing by in ten-foot-high letters. Some artist must have been paid to do it: it's far too slick and symmetrical for graffiti. Further out on the same tram ride, over the river, I now struggle to remember when an ugly 1960s 8-or-9-storey office block, wider than high, was pulled down. At least 2 years ago now I think. It was one of the ministries. The demolition created a huge empty space on one side of the main road, dotted with parked cars but mainly empty yellow gravel & sand going back a deep block to a ragged row of cypress trees hiding some 19th-century buildings. Through the space, that used to be blocked by that dull boxy government office, golden sun pours across that tramline. The effect in the afternoons is wonderful. It completely changes the mood of that district. It makes me wonder what the feeling will be like when most of the jerry-built 20th-century structures in major cities across the world are wiped off the street map to open up similar sunlit spaces. When their puritanical, angry, utilitarian plainness finally gets taken out of the way of surviving older buildings. When someone clears the room to rebuild some of the foolishly removed pre-20th-century houses and boulevards, and allows the creation of newer classical/traditional/vernacular structures. When unembarrassedly decorative, historically literate architecture returns. It's going to be strange, liberating, lyrical when it comes.
I don't think much of this list of names for emotions we don't have names for in English, but one or two strike a chord. No. 2, for example, 'Opia', is one I've been experiencing more of recently out and about in Budapest. Accidentally meeting eyes with someone, looking into the other's soul fleetingly, can be an extraordinary moment. That 'satori' that mother described having once on Deansgate in Manchester was this kind. The predominant emotion on both sides in that quick second of locking glances seems to be a kind of astonished sense of unity: Are we together?
Friday. Three days ago got a haircut and felt a bit bad merely asking for a mere trim when all hands were on deck tending to the more complex haircare needs of two rather glamorous Russian molls. One striking thing about Hungarian versus Slav girls is the different sense of colour. Even when they get it wrong, Slavs like a bright shade or two. One of the Russians was all in body-tight black showing her curves except for a curious cardigan/robe/shawl-thing in the most gorgeous powder blue. I'm not sure it really suited but it was dramatic and it stood out. Her Russian friend was in a frilly body-hugging cream/beige skirt/frock-thing that showed off her curves with no other touch of colour except for suede boots in an almost alarming apple green. Both Russians had some idea of taste, had chosen just one intense thing to stand out, and weren't afraid of colour. Whereas Hungarian girls with those figures tend to wear a low-key mix of browns, greys, white, black, creams - almost as if afraid any bright shade will take attention away from their legginess or slim waists, almost as if colour blind and dressing deliberately to hide it. More likely, the two cultures have different definitions of taste. In the same way that the one time I visited Athens absolutely everyone was wearing either a white shirt with black trousers or black skirt, or a black shirt with black trousers or skirt. That austere monochrome was their idea of good taste. Meanwhile, one writer thinks US politics is changing, while another suggests that people are too dim to make democracy work.
Thursday. An intriguing map of Europe in 1500. Apart from France, England, Spain, elsewhere things look rather different to today's continent. A huge Lithuania, a patchwork of small Irish clan kingdoms, a mighty Denmark, and two puzzling territories: 'Hungary Bohemia' versus 'Bohemia Hungary'?
diary entries by month
September 2015 /
August 2015 /
July 2015 /
June 2015 /
May 2015 /
April 2015 /
March 2015 /
February 2015 /
January 2015 /
December 2014 /
November 2014 /
October 2014 /
September 2014 /
August 2014 /
July 2014 /
June 2014 /
May 2014 /
April 2014 /
March 2014 /
February 2014 /
January 2014 /
December 2013 /
November 2013 /
October 2013 /
September 2013 /
August 2013 /
July 2013 /
June 2013 /
May 2013 /
April 2013 /
March 2013 /
February 2013 /
January 2013 /
December 2012 /
November 2012 /
October 2012 /
September 2012 /
August 2012 /
July 2012 /
June 2012 /
May 2012 /
April 2012 /
March 2012 /
February 2012 /
January 2012 /
December 2011 /
November 2011 /
October 2011 /
September 2011 /
August 2011 /
July 2011 /
June 2011 /
May 2011 /
April 2011 /
March 2011 /
February 2011 /
January 2011 /
December 2010 /
November 2010 /
October 2010 /
September 2010 /
August 2010 /
July 2010 /
June 2010 /
May 2010 /
April 2010 /
March 2010 /
February 2010 /
January 2010 /
December 2009 /
November 2009 /
October 2009 /
September 2009 /
August 2009 /
July 2009 /
June 2009 /
May 2009 /
April 2009 /
March 2009 /
February 2009 /
January 2009 /
December 2008 /
November 2008 /
October 2008 /
September 2008 /
August 2008 /
July 2008 /
June 2008 /
May 2008 /
April 2008 /
March 2008 /
February 2008 /
January 2008 /
December 2007 /
November 2007 /
October 2007 /
September 2007 /
August 2007 /
July 2007 /
June 2007 /
May 2007 /
April 2007 /
March 2007 /
February 2007 /
January 2007 /
December 2006 /
November 2006 /
October 2006 /
September 2006 /
August 2006 /
July 2006 /
June 2006 /
May 2006 /
April 2006 /
March 2006 /
February 2006 /
January 2006 /
December 2005 /
November 2005 /
October 2005 /
September 2005 /
August 2005 /
July 2005 /
June 2005 /
May 2005 /
April 2005 /
March 2005 /
February 2005 /
January 2005 /
December 2004 /
November 2004 /
October 2004 /
September 2004 /
August 2004 /
July 2004 /
June 2004 /
May 2004 /
April 2004 /
March 2004 /
February 2004 /
January 2004 /
December 2003 /
November 2003 /
October 2003 /
September 2003 /
August 2003 /
July 2003 /
June 2003 /
May 2003 /
April 2003 /
March 2003 /
February 2003 /
January 2003 /
December 2002 /
November 2002 /
October 2002 /
September 2002 /
August 2002 /
July 2002 /