otherlanguages.org
. . . Main links

Basque / Dutch / English / Hungarian / Japanese / Swedish

link to i-mode page

#

#

non-alphabetic scripts

#

other links

#

endangered languages

#

sign languages

#

maps

#

songs and music

#

dead languages


*1

#

linguistic philosophy

#

artificial languages

#

AI, speech recognition

#

encryption, steganography

#

language history

#

calligraphy

#

cognitive psychology

#

mathematical linguistics

#

animal communication

#

language list

#

non-language links

2005
...............................................................................................................................................................

September 30th; Arriving at Budapest airport with time to burn, I hang around a newspaper & book stall called MEMOAR with a see-through perspex label bearing flowery italic green lettering. The italic words are 'Books, Newspapers, Pipes'. Their revolving stand of paperback novels in English is an odd mix of Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway & Martin Amis. Joining the queue to board at the gate, a man sitting on the shiny white floor is so drunk he has trouble standing up. Several large shallow tins of canned food bounce out of his bag, and start rolling off in various directions. He lurches after them. From where I am, they look like cans of sweetcorn. On the flight, I see an advert for Pigeon Cards, and persuade a stewardess to show me some. This inspired business idea is a small pack of about ten or fifteen cards, probably with a plastic finish, with word lists in a foreign language, given in phonetic spelling: a clever way to sell a tenth of a foreign-language phrase book to people who feel awkward buying books for almost the price of the whole phrase book. Therefore, a handsome mark-up. Recalls a couple of my own ideas from a few years back for publishing books in pack-of-cards format.
I arrive at Manchester, and catch two trains to Yorkshire to find the hospital mother is apparently in. I learn that only the elusive Dr Orange can secure her release. I try out some Cluedo quips along the lines of "Dr Orange, in the Day Room, with the ECT equipment", but no-one seems to find them very funny.

September 29th; I have to catch the afternoon train to Robin's because my passport is in my boxes in his attic. For the first time I properly notice that as the little two-carriage stopping train between Kecskemet and Lakitelek pulls away from each station, the driver honks on a modest klaxon - rather as if a small cartoon duck is in charge of the train.
September 28th; Pass a shop at the smart location of Ferenciek tere with its illuminated name panel mounted back-to-front, so that the store's name is in faded mirror writing.

September 27th; Lunch with Adam. Then disturbing news of mother.
September 26th; Red wine with the gorgeous Esther. She describes two separate friends of hers who were given a drugged drink in Budapest bars and then robbed.

September 25th; On Margit bridge, I run into happy Sasha the painter carrying a painting of two beautiful girls. At the other end, as agreed, I meet Judit and there at the tram-stop hand write a recommendation for a British university, managing to misspell 'perseverance' on her lovely blue form, twice. Then I shop for a sage plant. In the 300 yards down Pozsonyi street from my room, there are, on Sunday afternoon, three separate florist's shops open, plus three flower stalls [two of which are 24-hour]. None sell potted herbs. They look offended when I ask. Even in one of the most commercial parts of Hungary's most commercial city the belief is still that customers should learn to read what it says above the shop and stop being so thick. Bear in mind that these are people with their own businesses, cheek-by-jowl with their competition. You might think they might try to distinguish themselves from the neighbouring florists in some small way? This reminds me of how, unlike shopkeepers in other countries, Hungarians do not get a cash float from the bank in the morning to make sure they have enough change to break every note a customer wants to break, but prefer to curse fifty customers every day for not being able to pay in exact change. Every day for years on end, without ever working out what the problem is. The 7th and 8th florist's shop, also open on a Sunday [flowers are much easier than getting batteries or newspapers or light bulbs on a Sunday] get me no further. At a supermarket I buy potted rosemary and basil [no sage there either] to get the sage project up and moving at least. Later, near where I met Sasha, I am so engrossed in a yoghourt that I walk past Liia & Rex, seeing them only at the last minute. I get on the 2 tram, and 50 yards from the two 24-hour flower stalls, I spot from the moving tram a 9th business open on a Sunday selling flowers and potted plants. Can I really gamble another 15 minutes of my life on there being one Hungarian plantseller wildly imaginative enough to branch out into selling potted herbs? I decide not to bother. I am only a customer and I know by now that the customer is always wrong.
After weight-training I get to Franc's for dinner. Fine wine and some startling gossip, albeit safely neutralised since I know no-one involved. Seeing again how wiry, energetic and brave Franc is [all that rock-climbing and running], and how plump, slow and timid his fluffy puss Lenke is, I suggest that she is his cat of Dorian Gray, Franc's feline anima, his cushion-shaped shadow self.
September 24th; I manage to set off the alarms while dropping in at the office, by re-alarming the keypad when in fact it was off, not on. Hideously loud.

September 23rd; I catch a lunch-time underground train out to the Stadionok station to visit Kati's animation studio. On the train two almost-elegant girls in their early 20s are with a small girl, perhaps 3 years old, who refuses to get off at one station with them. One pulls a handbag away from the little girl, the other picks her up and carries her through the closing doors. The little girl sobs, humiliated, and the three stand on the platform for a moment, speaking quietly. Then one of the tall, slim girls carefully replaces the big handbag with its long strap back round the little one. Her dignity restored, the 3-year-old toddles off consoled between the two adults.
Bright, cleansing autumn sun greets me as I come above ground and walk to the animation studio. The subtitles I translated are not on the hedgehog cartoon, so no-one, including me, really knows why I am there.
After work, I go with Liia & Vera to see 'Nightwatch' in Russian. Before the film we have some soup with an impressively doughy pancake thing draped over the soupbowl. As usual, the Hungarian subtitles are too fast for me so I have very little clue what is going on in the Russian horror movie, but some very striking images and powerful moments. Like a Hollywood film would have been, only a bit more visually imaginative. Mysterious types in dark glasses patrol the streets enforcing a thousand-year-old truce between the forces of light and dark. Doses of witchcraft, Moscow grunge, fuzzy red Cyrillic lettering on laptop screens and the occasional jamjarful of blood enliven proceedings.
Liia then accompanies me to Vittula, another dumpy cellar bar with headache-inducing levels of cigarette smoke, to meet Scott & Rita & NZ Robin. This was apparently the re-opening night, though the decor was as dull and claustrophobic as last time. Rita and the lively Aniko differ on whether I should become a thrash-metal DJ or a fashion photographer. Rita says photographer, Aniko says DJ.
September 22nd; Pasta with Rita & Ilya.

September 21st; Pizza with Charlie & Addie.
September 20th; Buy more picture frames.

September 19th; Confusing day. Got to the end of a slim, orange book by Marina Baker, called 'Spells for Teenage Witches', which opens with the cheerful sentences "Empower yourself through witchcraft. Seize responsibility. Act upon your desires to change your life and the world." How could anyone reasonable refuse such a bold and charming challenge? Aimed at teenagers, Baker is careful to warn against leaving burning candles unattended, having a hot bath when dizzy, going out to the forest without telling a responsible adult where you are, as well as the usual occult caveat about never ever wishing harm on others. The choice of charms is focussed too, with spells to help revise for exams, spells to be overlooked by teachers testing the class, spells to be overlooked by school bullies, a couple of remedies for period pains, spells to overcome bitter schoolgirl disputes with best friends and more. Most touching are the spells to reconcile quarreling or separated parents. One poignant one involves leaving a signed, handwritten card in each parent's coat pocket saying "Please stop shouting. I love you." and sounds to me like it might be quite effective without the magical component. An odd paragraph at the start explains carefully but impossibly how to make a pentacle, by drawing a circle, then stepping off around the circle with the compasses set at the same radius to mark five equidistant points. This can only mark off six equidistant points, as Rodney the maths-student lodger once showed me when I was small: two points on a circle a radius apart plus the centre of the circle give the corners of an equilateral triangle, hence building hexagons, never pentagons or pentacles. In a book about trying recipes out for real, strange that Baker did not test this simple step herself, but I suppose I am overcritical. The names of the people she credits at the end suggest a Glastonbury-ish milieu: among others she thanks someone called Zaz, couples like Charlie and Bo or Yael and Matt, plus "all the Saltdean mothers". Note to self: buy sage plant in flower pot.
September 18th; In the small hours of Sunday, got to the end of Marion's copy of 'Hard Times' by Charles Dickens. Travelling to teach Sari in Erd in the afternoon, I stand on the 7 bus near a quiet, round woman embroidering as the bus moves. I only catch a glimpse, but she is stitching text in chunky block capitals of burgundy red on a cream background, which includes the exhortation ...I SAID BE BRAVE, BE STRONG... Once in Erd, I suggest Sari might look at design colleges in I t a l y. Later with Ilan, I revisit, for the first time in years, Pink Cadillac for a quite tasty pizza. Ilan explains his ideas on communities while I eat. 'Hard Times' was a surprisingly good read. I can see the problem with the over-expressive names (one character called "M'Choakumchild", another called "Gradgrind", another called "Sparsit"), but adept plotting. The characterisation was laid on with a trowel in places, but I wonder if this comes from Dickens' broad canvas? If you have decided To Speak Of Grand Themes, then it is hard not to preach and simplify. Are we now afraid of love, loss, redemption, heartbreak, death? One feature I could have done without is the way that Gradgrind's utilitarianism is criticised on every page with the monotonous insistence of... well, Gradgrind himself. The occult vision of Mrs Sparsit's staircase was rather striking, and nifty to open and close the book with children looking through a peephole into the circus tent, after several people have been changed. Compared to his larger-than-life characters, a fairly unobtrusive narrative trick from Dickens. Several folk on the Internet say I should try Mrs Gaskell instead.

September 17th; For a couple of years I've idly wondered what the generic scent is that gets added to almost every tub of talcum powder. Now I think it must be balsam. Afternoon, meet Rob for a coffee at the Europa.
September 16th; Liia mentions Russian film.

September 15th; A long day grappling with Indesign software. Good old Adobe. Gits.
Found that the song I keep hoping to hear online is 'Rae & Christian's 'Not Just Anybody' featuring Kate Rogers. Longer credits, please.
September 14th; Chance on David & his newly betrothed Melinda dining outdoors late evening, near the cinema where they're showing this.

September 13th; The raspberry-fragrance soap I bought round the corner has become a high point of the morning shower. The more blandly scented soap I bought at the shop under Franc's flat had a more unusual brandname - it was called 'Good soap' and each smell had a woman's name [I think I bought 'Beatrice'] - but the aroma itself was nothing like as invigorating as this raspberry one. Bumped into Franc's friend Paul getting lunch today at Eklektika.
September 12th; Get to end of Ilan's book from the early 1970s about 'The United States and the Arab World', by William Polk. There were some interesting bits, but overall rather weak. This edition wraps up just after the 1973 war between Israel and several neighbours settled some of the scores of the 1967 Six Day War, and two things are notable. Polk needs to be a scholar of some insight to make up for his poor writing: the book alternates between fluffy pages of platitude and dense wedges of poorly-organised detail. Yet as he winds down in the closing several chapters, what do we hear? The 1973 war has "lanced the boil" of Egyptian humiliation and perhaps marks a turning point in relations between the Arab nations and Israel. That "new men" in the Arab world are taking Arab countries in new directions, which include turning away from a preoccupation with the past and powerlessness in the face of the West. So after several decades of close study, with Polk personally involved in the region (he does not brag, but a brief mention of an interview with Nasser shows Polk was not an uninformed outsider), what do we have? Pretty much the same as any newspaper journalist of the time was writing. It might be asking a lot for Polk to foresee the assassination of Sadat by Muslim extremists, the century's second and nastier Lebanese civil war, the assassination of Rabin by a Jewish extremist, the two Gulf wars, the September 2001 attacks on NY & DC, but if he could not justify his scholarly reputation with predictions (the book finishes with a clutch of cliches about crystal balls) he could at least have learned to write better. He is interesting when he writes about the attempts of early-19th-century reformer Muhammed Ali to modernise Egypt, and he gives some good detail on events among the Palestinians in the late 1960s and early 70s. A rather muddled passage goes through the build-up of Zionist Jews in Palestine, and how the Arabs could already see in the early 1920s where this would leave them. It was depressing to read that Jewish terrorists such as the Stern Gang were killing British soldiers trying to keep the peace between them and the Palestinian Arabs through the 20s, 30s and 40s, even while other British soldiers were dying elsewhere in battle against the anti-Jewish German Nazi regime. The curious thing is the presence of confused rambling alongside sections crowded with facts. In a book with this title, the fact that a well-organised Israel lobby has a big influence on American domestic politics is given less than half a page: striking. Polk describes the Arab obsession with not being humiliated, and their repeated, but often misguided, attempts to modernise without coming to the obvious conclusion. As the most successful raiding party in history, the Arab/Muslim breakout from Arabia's desert to conquer half the Mediterranean world, in less than a hundred years from 630 to 730, was always going to be a hard act to follow, especially for the Arabs themselves. The unfortunate lessons of such an enormous string of military victories are that flair, bravado, surprise attack and cunning can win you the world, whereas tedious trivia like discussion, hard work, trust, incremental improvement, setting up a business, or letting anyone else set up a business, are distractions likely to hold you back. Like the South American Spanish and the Central Asian hordes led by Attila and Genghis, Islam's warlords-turned-landlords have never recovered from their overnight success, and most likely never will. In half a century of full-time scholarship on the subject, Polk appears to have never quite worked this out. He does give a good sense of Arab Muslims, and to a lesser extent Israeli Jews, oscillating between doleful self-pity and gleeful self-congratulation, the combination which usually best indicates fanaticism. Something on the Arab relationship with Iran would have been useful. The difference between Sunni and Shi'ite Islam casually asided in three sentences. Not a single sentence on Morocco. Not a single sentence on Ataturk's secularisation of Turkey in the 1920s: the Turks in the 1920s being the rulers the Arabs first achieved independence from. Nothing about religious reform movements within Islam. Nothing about the first US encounter with the Arab world, the US navy's attack on 19th-century North African pirates. Next to nothing on where the holy sites of Islam are and why they matter. I don't recall anything about Wahabism in Saudi Arabia either. Bear in mind this was already a re-edition of a book published ten years earlier. With so much missing from such a weighty book and so little left in, Polk looks like a man who became America's "renowned" expert on a big topic at a time when there was not too much competition for the job.

September 11th; Swimming, weights, finish 'Memory' by I.M.L. Hunter. This 1960s paperback goes over slightly more territory than the other recent memory book, and a little more digestibly. The early experiments into memory by Ebbinghaus were inspiring, and the brief review of mnemonics was fair if unsympathetic. Most interesting was a short section on Kluver and Jaensch studying those children who have eidetic (misnamed 'photographic') memory until 8, 9, 10, 11 years old. The strangest part is that they literally project a picture outward: the experimenter puts a picture against a grey board, the children study it, and then when the picture is removed, the children continue to scan the grey board looking at the empty space. They study this space and continue to pick out details like numbers of buttons, positions of flags, colours of hats in the picture as if the picture was still there. If the board or mat has a fold in it, they experience the remembered-but-missing picture as having a fold in it! Eidetic rememberers make mistakes (which is why it is not truly photographic) but it sounds an extremely useful skill. It seems to be that intensively studying a scene weaves together a sort of matted surface of overlapping visual traces in the child's memory. It may have a few holes in it, but can persist for some minutes as if there is a visual clipboard holding this texture of interlocking, crossreferencing glances together until they fade or get replaced by something newer. Hunter and the original researchers suggest that the onset of abstract thinking brings on the decline of eidetic memory. Perhaps. I can recall a couple of deeply unabstract, thought-free medical students I knew at college who clearly still had something like eidetic memory operating at age 20. I wonder if abstract thinking can be repressed at will? Isn't that what meditation is for? Eidetic memory cuts against the thrust of the rest of the book, summed up by the William Fulwood poem Hunter quotes at the end: "...The first is well to understand / The thing that he doth take in hand..." Understand? Not if you want to see it right there again in front of your eyes.
September 10th; Morning coffee & warm scones with Liia inside the Lehel market hall, on a balcony above crowds of shoppers scurrying among the fruit & veg stalls. Later met Ilan, and borrowed & read his copy of 'Don't Make Me Think!' by Steve Krug. Krug's book is a charming and well-laid-out text about designing websites to be clear. As well as being short, friendly and courteous, Krug says lots of obvious things without making the reader feel stupid - on the topic of not making people visiting your website feel stupid: appropriate. Unobtrusively he builds up to the last three chapters, which are about testing your website's usability in simple tests with a handful of users. The number one mistake, he says, is not saying clearly what your site is about. I am sure otherlanguages.org makes this mistake, though that might be because I'm not sure what my site's about either. Also good stuff on navigation, clutter, and self-evident click-throughs. One flaw: he names a chapter after a misquote of Lyndon Johnson: "Don't throw the baby out with the dishes". ?? The real saying ("Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater") makes complete sense - you are sloshing water out of a bowl in which you bathed a baby. In contrast, what on earth could the Johnson/Krug version mean? a) Why are dishes together in a container with a baby? b) Why would anyone throw dishes out? Very odd for a book about not puzzling readers by a man with a consultancy called Advanced Common Sense to give a chapter such a daft name. But otherwise a breezy & helpful read. I have already acted on it, and will do more. 1. Have meant for years to include a search button for this site: Krug has nudged me to do this soon. 2. I tell other people to put clear page titles on their sites, so a bit hypocritical of me to let my own site be confusing. 3. Have hesitated about a tag line: Krug has persuaded me now. I need one.

September 9th; Evening drinks with Franc and his friend Paul from Larne, a Home Office handwriting analyst. Nikolett & vivacious Yekaterina charm us with their perfume samples. The square hums with, er, action.
September 8th; Finished reading the office copy of Dave Radin's 'Building a Successful Software Business' an hour before attending the office social event - drinks, pool and table football in a bar on Dessewffy street. I got enjoyably drunk, enough to decisively lose Zoli the test engineer every table-football game he & I played as partners.
Radin's book is over a decade old now (he predicts that paying online will become big, warns readers to consider whether to ship product on 3.5" discs or 5.25" discs, and has a lot of content about Lotus spreadsheets), but this did not really matter, because the book had very little to do with software business. Rather, it was the usual set-up-a-company text, with straightforward checklists of things not to overlook. The main assumption is the reader is a programmer who thinks writing good software makes finding out about marketing and accounting unnecessary. A surprisingly large number of people trying to run a business have not read books like this from their public library in the past: Tom would have benefitted from Chapter 16 on cash flow and basic financial planning, for example. As ever, much of it boils down to common sense like: it is easier to hire than fire, so think carefully about recruiting; small businesses cannot afford brand advertising and are better off with direct marketing coded to trace what generated most leads; moving into a big office as soon as sales take off can be a mistake; write a convincing business plan; get a good accountant, and so on. A couple of bits were new - I hadn't read much about selling through seminars and user-group events before this. O'Reilly software books stand out with their natty black-and-white-line natural-history drawings of animals on white backgrounds (1 2 3), so this cover, a human cannonball, did not seem quite right.

September 7th; Villanyi starts to get nervous. Sari starts to read 'Lord of the Flies'.
September 6th; Reading pop-up & f o r m-writing tutorials.

September 5th; Afternoon, look over webpages for Asylum's BYOD option. Evening, look over webpages for Ilan's modelling card site. Note to self: bacon and garlic pizza slices at Music Academy Pizza Hut on Thursdays.
September 4th; Morning: over to Peter's to watch some of his footage with Constantine, Robin, & Anna, with rousing classical soundtracks. Then to swim on the island, before weights & sauna at the fitness club. All a bit strenuous.
Beside the pool on the island in fitful spells of sun, I finished reading 'Verbal learning and memory', an early-1970s set of essays edited by Leo Postman and Geoffrey Keppel. Much of the book is about the interference theory of forgetting, which is that failure to remember happens when earlier or later stimuli interfere with the memory. This slightly unlikely-sounding idea is apparently now the only decent theory of forgetting in town. A two-level explanation also involving memories being retained but failing to be recalled, like misfiled documents lost in an archive, sounds more credible to me, but what do I know? Much of the book is a bit of a misnomer, since these studies from the 50s and 60s are largely not about verbal material but about having subjects memorise nonsense syllables (like XEL or DOB) and letter triples (like BFJ or ZMK) as well as digits, under controlled conditions. Plentiful graphs in which two lines barely differ from each other are interpreted to rule in or out various theories, but it is tempting to see most of this research as examining the wrong level of phenomena with impressive but superfluous precision. I could have understood the more atomistic results better if I was less vague on the statistical tools, like chi-square calculations - but the experiments and hypotheses themselves seem based on a mistaken analogy with physics: that if the measurement is about a small and exact enough effect, then the building blocks of psychology can be uncovered. Of course, if the psychological building blocks of memory are larger than this, the grand effort of several decades looks misguided in retrospect. B.J. Underwood in the essay on 'Interference and forgetting' points out a major distortion in twenty years of results caused by getting subjects to practise memorising tasks in the laboratory before beginning the experiment proper. Another paper by Underwood re-examines Gillette's result that faster memorisers are better memorisers and claims this result was also methodologically unsound. Hard not to wonder how many other of these multiply-tested yet frustratingly non-verbal memory results are built on sand. One interesting exception to the sub-verbal focus of the book was a 1950 paper by G.A. Miller & J.A. Selfridge finding that nonsense "sentences" are as easily recalled as meaningful sentences as long as "short-range contextual dependencies" are preserved. They constructed sets of strings of ten to fifty words in which every word occurs in normal-looking substrings two, three, four, five, six words long in turn, and if every word was in a normal-looking substring five words long, the entire string could be twaddle yet memorable. Try this... "house to ask for is to earn our living by working towards a goal for his team in old New York was a wonderful place wasn't it even pleasant to talk about and laugh hard when he tells lies he should not tell me the reason why you are is evident": a 51-word nonsense string of "5 order approximation", meaning that each random word is chosen in the context of the previous 4. A string that subjects recalled strangely successfully. Miller & Selfridge state "...this kind of gibberish is as easily recalled as a passage lifted from a novel." Now that is surprising, and a result worth having.

September 3rd; Last night, Friday, I started packing stuff for today's day in the woods building teams with Asylum Telecom and their human-resource consultants. To keep myself company I switched on the television just as the credits were starting for an early 80s film with Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie called 'The Hunger'. I interpreted this as a sign I should watch it. A bit disappointing, though ambitious in its way. The good-looking and stylish CD & DB live in a grandly spacious house somewhere in Manhattan, finding "young persons" at discos, taking them home for sex and then stabbing them and drinking their blood. By leaving out the teeth nonsense, the film avoids most vampire cliches (at first). This is so as to concentrate (not unlike my TV series 'The Enclave') on just how lonely endless centuries of first-rate sex in tasteful surroundings must be. Bowie suddenly starts putting on years though, drawing some doctors researching ageing into the story. Talking of growing old, this 80s film really shows its age. Moments meant to feel poignant are conveyed by having characters such as Deneuve play slow classical piano pieces, a lot. Since the TV seemed to be screening a stretched tape, this meant that every single long, meaningful chord warbled hideously as it dipped in and out of the flat note. Also rather too much of the billowing curtains, long-shadowed light, and attics full of pigeons. Some of the fast, arty 80s camera shots left me briefly confused about who was stabbing whom, while in the slow, atmospheric sections, the couple speak that slightly stilted English that always disquiets and intrigues the honest folk of NYC in films. Much of this vampires-in-the-US stuff seems to be about Americans' barely-hidden fascination with aristocrats. An otherwise gutsy New York doctor gal quickly succumbs to the charms of the well-born. Trying to cover up from her sceptical partner a missing afternoon of lesbian seduction at the hands of the timeless French lady, she murmurs, misty-eyed, "they're... European", and we understand everything. Some clever moments and good acting (insofar as being gaunt vampires in long coats in a decade of gaunt popstars in long coats gives much for actors to do), but the predictably silly ending.
Today, up to the woods of Normafa for more team-building stuff. We close with Belbin's team roles. I wonder how old Meredith is these days? I got bitten by gnats in the forest, despite taking insect repellant up there, but otherwise good fun. Flipchart heaven. Nice lunch.
September 2nd; Third day in a row at Zsolt's print studio. Pick up my images, and order Robin's exhibition cards.

September 1st; Disgraceful drunkenness with jolly Scott & dazzling Rita. She's now in some game show job. Sinister little Scandinavian drinks. Aniseed-based?

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

back up to top of page