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2006
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January 31st; Uneventful train journey up north to hospital to see mother on her birthday.
January 30th; Quiet day. Just before leaving Budapest last week finished last book borrowed on Mariann's library ticket, 'Dinamikus Emlekezet' [from 'Dynamic memory revisited'] by Roger Schank, translated by Anett Rago, and 'Margins of Reality' by Robert Jahn & Brenda Dunne. The 1990s Schank book [I really must stop reading AI books] is honestly-intentioned but slightly frustrating. Schank re-examines his theory of mind based on his work in Artificial Intelligence [AI], a theory that we think in scripts, such as visit-restaurant or visit-health-professional. These scripts in turn call on packages of related knowledge which are not themselves scripts. He goes in detail into how we deviate from old scripts and generate new ones. He was inspired partly by failures of AI and partly by seeing his own children learn. He spends a great deal of time looking at human thinking and how children are taught, rediscovering some wheels already familiar to psychologists and sociologists, though from a refreshing, new angle. His insights? Intelligence is built out of knowledge, and knowledge is acquired through activity, in particular, a struggle not to repeat mistakes. Good as far as it goes, I suppose.
The Jahn & Dunne book gives a new meaning to things going pear-shaped. The authors formed PEAR, the Princeton Engineering Anomolies Research group, and so built up large bodies of data on people trying to psychically influence random-number-generating devices. The book gives this data and their research methods, as well as laying out a similar attempt to be rigorous about "remote viewing" [subjects trying to imagine where someone else has been, is, or will be, and describe what they imagine]. The metaphysical speculations and cute little historical illustrations in black and white are less distracting and silly than I expected. The whole thing seems sincere. Wish I could remember enough statistics to judge the data for myself.

January 29th; Wake up in Catford. Nigel & I take Juno fora long walk he has promised her, first taking a bus over to Greenwich. Nigel opens a tin of meat for Juno a few yards from the meridian, and then we stroll over to what turns out to be Blackheath. Unsure of my directions, I find the church in which Cressida sung in the choir back in the 1980s. Not short of prima donna qualities, she refused to ever sing in front of me, insisting I sit through two strangers' weddings one Sunday back then to hear her voice: something like Grieg or Messaien. I fail to recall where I sat, though I know it was roughly at the back on the right. In evening we eat noodles. Unable to get through to mother in hospital on phone, since clever new system where you pay a lot per minute to talk to a sick relative is hard to use, but nurses say she is improving. I may be imagining this, but I have a bizarre memory of one of the nurses on the phone saying that my mother is "motilating", presumably meaning she can walk now.
January 28th; Chat with charming, grey-eyed economics student in queue at Budapest airport. Catch nap on flight. Board Greenline coach at Luton, and sit at front almost beside driver. A succession of breath-takingly plain people then get on the coach. After about 20 minutes of motorway to London, driver switches on crackly radio, which is playing '2-4-6-8-Motorway'. After a half hour of this radio show, which mixes aged rock favourites with shouted ten-second interruptions to report goals scored at football games up & down Britain, the driver gets fed up around the Marble Arch area of London and switches to a classical music station. As we arrive at the Victoria terminus, I ask him, a thin, wiry man, how many times he drives up and down between Luton and London each day. He says "only two" round trips, staring blankly ahead. "Still quite tiring?" I volunteer. "Not so tiring," the wiry man says, "more annoying, really." "Ah, irritating and boring?" I say, sympathetically. The driver is unmoved, and sits still, staring ahead through the windscreen. "Boring, annoying, dull... tedious... irritating..." His voice trails off as he gazes into space, and he presses the button to open the automatic door and let me off.
Inside Victoria, I eat a hot croissant with cheese & ham and board the Underground train. Next to me a red-haired, Saxon-looking man is facing a girl who is speaking clearly with a strong semi-Cockney accent. They are both dressed in office wear. She tells him that some girl's name is Tululu, and was the one in the primary-school dance group tall for her age. He is inaudible. Seconds later she mentions the phrase "philosophy magazine". He mumbles something sceptical. "You know, philosophy," she says calmly, "questions about life. Questions discussed over the ages, and then commented on by great thinkers, with other people commenting on their comments." The man mumbles again. "No, not science," the Cockney girl explains, patiently, "but it doesn't always have to be scientific to be worth discussing, does it?" I get off at Embankment, before hearing any more of her refreshing open-mindedness. I have to run to catch the train at Charing Cross to Catford Bridge. In the seats around me are three London girls decked in bangles and necklaces, led by an extremely stacked, confident blonde with a gorgeously deep, husky voice. She is in charge of their natter. As a woman in fur and black leather gloves behind us loudly explains to her mobile phone that you can injure all sorts of muscles skiing, and that she heard a sound in the kitchen last night so they went down and indeed it was a rat and they caught it too, the three brassy girls roll their eyes, but quite sweetly, without nastiness. Then the husky blonde describes what a jammy git [lucky bastard] her brother is with mobile phones. As evidence of this jamminess, he left his new phone in a phone box and came back after an hour and it was still there, drove some distance across London with it left on the roof of his van and it didn't slip off, and he left it on the frosty grass overnight and it still worked afterwards. I'm convinced.

January 27th; Tricky, but finally get a flight ticket.
January 26th; Much excitement at work. Mr Carlson invites me for a sausage in the butcher's shop. Standing at red-checked counters with our mustard & our plastic cutlery, we lunch among smart Budapest lads with black ties & long black coats. Uncannily like Cockney legal clerks or trainee brokers on the up in the City of London.

January 25th; Wake out of vivid dream. I was at a vaguely erotic occult party held in smart, cheerful surroundings in a building of large brightly-lit rooms with high white walls. At one point a small mammoth dressed in the running strip of a Scottish sports club trotted up a ramp on its back legs among other members of the same Scots club, and someone commented that this was funny in view of the Scottish pop group called 'Mammoth'. All seemed perfectly normal in the dream. Perhaps last night's tiramisu. During the day, an excellent public-speaking class from Willy at lunch time. Later on, a snack with Mihaela & Tamas at Cafe Lite. Then a good curry with Giorgi, kind translator of this site's imminent Georgian page, followed by a nightcap with Esther.
January 24th; Morning interview with Scott, Keri & Nicolas on Hungarian television goes reasonably smoothly.
Later, fun with Powerpoint at work until Mr Carlson & I run off for a beer at 5.30. In Buda, I try to persuade Andrej that the ancient Greeks are still of interest, before testing out Cafe Voyage, a WiFi hotspot. Here two gloomy men serve me the largest tiramisu I have ever witnessed, a pudding of almost sinister proportions.

January 23rd; Mother a bit better on phone. Early night.
January 22nd; Get out of bed to quiz Miklos over dinner to prepare for coming Tuesday's television interview. Afterwards learn mother is in hospital again, this time with breathing difficulties.

January 21st; Still in bed. Finish 'The Golden Ratio' by Mario Livio. This is a gentle historical introduction to the golden mean through history, and how it pops up in the Fibonacci series. Lots of nice woodcuts, diverting diagrams of leaves spaced round plant stems and so forth. Livio is persuasively sceptical about the use of the golden ratio in art, and the tendency of "golden numberists" to see it wherever they look, artfully drawing frames of the right shape round different bits of famous paintings [or even bits of musical scores] to find it where it isn't. He examines the claims that Leonardo used the golden mean and finds very little evidence. Refreshingly for an astrophysicist, Livio attributes the beauty of da Vinci's paintings to the emotional mood they create, and da Vinci's use of colour and shading, not to any mathematical relationships between parts of the picture.
January 20th; H e a d cold reasserts itself. Back to bed.

January 19th; Still snuffly. Meet Scott.
January 18th; Ill at home. Uncaching tip from Bryan.

January 17th; Drinks with Bob & fellow carpet trader Ben.
January 16th; Cakes & ginger ale with Isabel & Heikki.

January 15th; This literary site has kindly linked here.
January 14th; Over to next village shopping with Robin. We drop by the cheesemaker. They have a demented Alsation barking at a heap of wooden planks, a lard-eating child minding a smoky outdoor cauldron, a small black puppy hiding under a pile of 6 or 7 bicycles, and some joints of pork hanging out on the porch: it is just after a pig killing. The family is cutting up its carcass on the kitchen table, but break off to sell us a round, yellow cheese. After dark, Edina brings Kadicsa over to Robin's. While he watches a Harry Potter film on television with Robin's children, Edina & I review more dragon/witch/magic-horse points. Then she tells me about Propp's ideas and corrects my first [yes, I know] Arabic homework.

January 13th; Lunch with Liia. Friday the 13th. I catch train to Robin's, as usual from platform 13. Nothing bad happens. I finish the first translation draft of Edina's thesis about dragons, witches and magic horses on the laptop, in the dining car, over an omlette. Later, in his kitchen, Robin describes how his one-time friend Attila became so consumed by darkness that Robin found him sprawled across some church steps in Szeged clenching a plaster mini-Madonna in each fist, craving salvation.
January 12th; Meet Reka. She says Andras Lang used to edit Pesti Est in her mother's cafe.

January 11th; Bob & I fly back. Odessa airport has us put our luggage through three separate baggage scanners before we board the flight [as opposed to one scanner after our plane there landed on Saturday, perhaps in case we might use weapons to hijack an airport taxi]. Back in Budapest, Bob wants to try Goa restaurant, so we regroup there in the evening. A middle-aged couple at the next table switch back and forward between English & Hungarian. As we eat, the woman next to Bob answers her mobile phone and loudly, cheerfully asks "How was the autopsy? Was it a new body, or one of those 5-year-old ones?"
January 10th; Light snow and sleet. I post Ukrainian Playboy to Glasgow from grand post office with white cameo wall mouldings of laurel wreaths, hammers & sickles. Officials very helpful. Bob explains experimental significance in a Chinese restaurant. Odessa has minibuses you can hail like taxis, and pay on the way out.

January 9th; We see inside fat green Islamic dome. Reassuring quote from brochure: "The majority of those in paradise are morally upright people." In a shopping centre with an indoor tree made of welded piping, a clothing shop has a lightbox poster showing a scantily-clad sexy girl beneath a reverse-evolution sequence of a walking man regressing in stages into an ape on all fours. Bob suggests the poster says the sexy girl causes the man to regress. We visit an Oriental art museum. Then we dine at a Ukrainian folk restaurant. The serving maids have waist-length coloured ribbons trailing from their hair, and there is an indoor tree made of fibreglass looking like wood. Bob explains art of snappy book titles.
Skype enters the business market.
January 8th; Last night we pass an Arab / Islamic / Tartar cultural centre covered in Near Eastern patterning. Its dome is very fat, lit up in rich colours. As we return to the hotel on the number 5 tram, three girls get on singing Ukrainian Christmas carols. One holds a staff bearing a big star made of tinsel. The songs are lovely, and rather intricate. As we move to the back of the tram to compliment them, the whole tram touchingly breaks out into 'We wish you a merry Christmas' in English in our honour.
Wake up this morning mildly baffled at my usual small bedsheet that cannot tuck in, so ends up wrapped round legs after a night sweating into the mattress the sheet is supposed to protect. Not unlike the extra curtains that turn out to be as transparent as the net curtains and only cover a quarter of the windows anyway. People here are very spirited and friendly, but it's hard to keep nasty critical questions at bay, like "What are they thinking when they do that?". The fact that all over Eastern Europe bedsheets still don't tuck in and curtains still don't keep out light is a bit odd, really. Like the way Hungarian waiters bring your food or drink on top of your paper napkin, so that it is moist and therefore useless for wiping your hands on. Our hotel is cheap and pleasant and deserted, but is it really necessary to pay an extra hundred dollars a night before a hotel will think of sheets that cover a bed and curtains that cover a window? Is this advanced stuff? Because it's clearly about lack of thought, not lack of money.
By morning I pop into a church for a few moments of moving choral service. Orthodox Christians stand before their God, and even girls covered their heads before entering. Later Bob & I check a quiet museum. It seems the Greek colony nearest modern Odessa was Tira.

January 7th; Bob & I fly to Odessa, a cross between Moscow & Blackpool. We get frisked for weapons in a giant toy shop [it's Orthodox Christmas here] and enjoy a Thai meal in a Japanese place. Lots of casinos.
January 6th; After 11 hours sleep, into the office. Mr Carlson, over mulled wine mid-afternoon, alerts me to limewire. Later on, tea with a jet-lagged Bob, and then naughtily alcoholic cherry drinks with Politics Judit and Isabel. Much merriment, particularly when Judit's Tarot spread starts with 2 of cups and ends with The Lovers.

January 5th; On flight to Budapest meet Malcolm, a brewer turned jeweller.
January 4th; Tea with Piera & Giacomo. Sushi with Nigel & Danny.

January 3rd; Warm welcome from Nigel & Juno last night. Today, trip to Saffron Walden to see homeopath Roger. Nigel asks me if homeopathy works better if I see Roger less often.
January 2nd; Cramped train down to London, on which meet Margaret, a Normandy law & economics lecturer.

January 1st; New Scientist carries an extract from this book. Handy.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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