Spot one or two people on public transport in Hallowe'en costumes, but I have to toil at home on things to make cash, pay rent and so forth. The latest thing to go wrong with my Apple MacBook is the
utility software I installed to track the temperature inside the machine has overnight changed from being between 50 and 70 degrees all the time to being 120, 130, 140, 150 degrees. Either my laptop's CPU will melt any day now, or the iStat software, without me touching it or even opening it, has simply decided to switch from counting degrees in Celcius to logging them in Farenheit. Without asking me.
This year in Hungary most places shut for two four-day long weekends back to back. Thursday is November 1st, Day of the Dead, and Friday is what the French call le pont, the bridge to the weekend. Plus last week Tank Tuesday, commemorating the 1956 uprising, made October 22nd, a Monday, into the bridge day. Here is
a map of the world based on book publishing. Meanwhile, our publishing imprint's
first book seems to be on offer at
mysteriously high resale prices. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice said.
Hyperforeignism is making foreign words more foreign than they were already,
apparently. A bit like those people who say stadia or fora without checking how those words declined in Latin. A couple of days ago it was actually too hot to go out with a pullover on for one afternoon but now proper chilliness is edging in.
Wake from an early-evening doze with strangely precise images of silver bracelets and armbands in my head, almost like diagrams. A shouty, but interesting, article about another new
monetisation wheeze from Facebook.
Finish an interesting book lent by Ben's father, Richard, about early mediaeval western Europe.
'The Crucible of Europe - the 9th and 10th centuries in European history' by Geoffrey Barraclough is a very interesting, crisply-written look at Western Europe from about 750 to 1050, concentrating of course as the title promises on 800 to 1000. With some side glances at Byzantium and the Slavs in the East the main story is about attempts at reform in four separate places. The big story is, Barraclough says, that Charlemagne did not found a new Europe with the Frankish empire centred on Aachen, nor did he reconsolidate the Western Roman Empire, despite the adventure (almost digression, as he presents it) of being crowned in Rome. Separatist tendencies already in place were only papered over for the Carolingian century to re-emerge afterwards almost unaltered. As the Carolingian bloc broke up in 843 AD, a distinctively French idea of aristocracy was already taking shape and differing from the German idea. The consolidations of Otto the First in Germany also turned out to be temporary, and saw the beginnings of a long series of German/Polish conflicts and the rise of an organised monasticism that played aristocrats and kings off against each other. The Anglo-Saxon administrative reforms of Alfred and Edgar in strange contrast survived two subsequent conquests, by the Danes, and the Norman Vikings, almost intact. And inconclusive German and Papal manoeuvring in northern Italy slowly prepared the ground for growing independence of the mercantile cities like Milan & Florence.
A Greek island full of cheerful old people.
Out at IT Attila's start-up I get a sudden shock when he says a few years ago he was in the world championships for some sport I had never heard of
(floor ball), and he gets a couple of hockey-looking sticks out of his parked car to show me extraordinary freestyle moves. He also shows me his boxing gloves. I had no idea. It is now dark when I arrive and finish his lesson, and I have started enjoying walking the four minutes through the little wood each way in the gloom of late dusk. The path is narrow, and the tree foliage almost joins over the top. The last time I saw daylight in the wood, last week, I noticed that many trees have ivy wrapped up a trunk. Those trees are dead with bare branches. Live trees have no ivy, and a few have a tendril or two of ivy beginning the attack. Hungarians like the darkness, and in the wood I always pass one or other couple at some point sitting in complete blackness, either talking very quietly by the light of a mobile-phone screen, or sitting silently in the dark not speaking at all. A little like the way they sometimes sit for hours in twos or threes in an unlit parked car in a back street, one of them perhaps having a cigarette in silence, as if the parked car was an extra room attached to the apartment.
Interesting to hear a few days ago my new student Eva reacting with sceptical boredom to a speech by Hungarian Socialist leader Bajnai as opposed to the cries of excitement from my giddy Western friends. Had not noticed Hungary's last prime minister was called
Never met a Hungarian Gordon.
Brave little Pakistani girl
shot in the head by some radical Taleban Islamists for wanting to go to school, read books and so on, now seems likely to live.
Mateus in Brazil speaks highly of newest interest,
Some firm in the north of England can now apparently make
petrol out of air. Out of thin air, I suppose that should be.
So Jimmy Savile not just a paedophile but a necrophile, hm? Fascinating to learn now that the weird old creep really was as weird & creepy as he looked. Perhaps postwar Brits not been quite quick enough to judge by appearances.
Interesting to hear a communist state spy was billeted in the basement of Richard & Julia's home, formerly occupied by the British military attache. The
four-men-in-hats-buried-up-to-their-necks-in-dirt puzzle goes down well with Ben.
Interesting-looking shared creative office in Budapest. How sad the fools have to spoil the whole idea with the stupid (in fact dangerous) biometric fingerprint access. A good key just not cool & futuristic enough, eh lads?
Absorbing article about ghost stories and the supernatural in fiction, especially the 19th
and early 20th century.
Lapham's looks good.
Finish a book borrowed from Richard Lock about the Italian Renaissance. Michael Baxandall's
'Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy' is a thoughtful and well-composed discussion of the social context of painting in Quattrocento northern Italy. The importance of dance, expectations of colours among patrons, the kinds of arithmetic puzzles merchants would offer in banter with visiting mathematicians... Baxandall carefully peels back the assumptions of more recent art-historians looking backwards. He tries to get down to a sense of the life of the time in cities like Florence, Genoa, Milan into which what painters were doing had to fit.
Morning at Medical Attila's flat with his burbling fish tank and his wonderful frontal view across the river Danube to the tree-covered Gellert Hill on the opposite bank. That's the hill where Bishop Gerard/Gellert was killed by letting him roll down the steep hill/almost-cliff in a barrel or cart in a pagan backlash against the new Christian worship of 11th-century Hungary. One of the less pleasant ways to die, I'd imagine. On my way there, receive a pure, intense epiphany about television. Crisp, clean sunshine is back after yesterday's Day of Rain. Meanwhile, two regenerating Italian sculptors:
Shapely Gazelle Seeks Successful Primate.
Awaken in the morning out of a not very nice dream. Not exactly a nightmare, but I am in a grassy clearing with some people, and while I am fending off a wild hog with a large stick, cutlery men are attacking my friends. The Cutlery Men are 12-inch-high characters made of five pieces of normal silver cutlery, nothing else. They have spoons for spines (bowl of the spoon is the head, cupped cavity facing frontward, and the handle reaches down to the pelvis), knives for legs, and forks for arms. They skip and dodge nimbly through long grass, jabbing at people with fork hands and kicking their blade legs if anyone gets too close. Once awake I see it is raining, heavily, from a grey sky almost the whole day. A bit like Anglesey, north Wales, in the summer of 1972. The rain was so constant that Mother and I spent the entire fortnight holiday confined to a rented stationary caravan reading each other's paperback books, listening to rain drumming on the roof. Here is a man explaining how
hiring a girl to slap him in the face during work hours increased his productivity.
Monday. I blush more! Another of my articles gets posted by a finance newsletter, and this one had a little yes/no straw poll readers can vote on.... or it did. This very short piece (had to be < 400 words) is about giving London's Square Mile a sort of secret currency to smooth out the business cycle for the rest of Britain. Cunning stuff.
Sunday. Struggle with stupid flaw in Apple Mac Textedit. In evening solve problem. Was being blocked from saving files because the apostrophe from the extra keyboard is the wrong type of apostrophe. Never mind intelligent computers, we could start by inventing intelligent computer programmers. After removing that logjam, work more on financial-crash-book site. Looks tidier now. Seem to have more energy these days.
Saturday. Clean last batch of windows in flat, making that nice eek eek eek noise on the glass with the paper tissues. Earlier in afternoon drop by at Jeremy & Csilla's flat, where they are playing some kind of computer game, racing against the clock to type in as many English words as possible starting with a given 3-letter triple. Jeremy and I chat over coffee about written guides to English usage.
Friday. Down that trains-on-the-left HEV line again to see IT Attila behind the little wood at his start-up office full of half-built shopping-centre electronics. I am made to stand in front of one of the man-high machines, and line myself up so that my head appears in an oval on the screen, and then I get a postcard printed out superimposing my face on (in this case) a man with sunflower petals round his head, stripped to the waist, holding an acoustic guitar, and pointing out of the picture at the viewer. Horrible to see my face in that. Instead of Edwardian seaside amusement arcade you get something more like this film moment.
Thursday. Buttons Sylvia drops over for a cup of tea. She says London street market antique purchases are down from 50 to 15 quid a time.
Wednesday. For some odd reason, four cars have appeared in the Corvin indoor shopping centre 2 minutes from my building. 2 Aston Martins, 1 Lotus, and 1 Rolls Royce. Each one is inside a little enclosure of bollards linked together by yellow ribbon. Interestingly, no pretty girls loitering around them these days. They've realised that doesn't work. I suppose the idea is to say This Is
No Ordinary Shopping Arcade - Interesting Things Happen Here! Might explain a curious exhibition in the basement of the shopping mall where a little orchard of about fifteen small information boards celebrate famous spies from history. Something eerie about reading brief biographies of Philby, Burgess, Maclean, and Blunt in a one-time East Bloc language, Hungarian. So, did we win in the end?
Tuesday. Do my first bout of window
cleaning since about February. All part of trying to become a capable adult.
Monday. It might be today I notice a new fire-exit sign on the wall right outside my front door. Although the chunky white paper-cut-out man on the green background fleeing for the white rectangle is probably saying 'Exit Somewhere This Way', he seems to be saying 'In Case of Emergency, Enter Mark's Flat', since it is my door he is running towards. He only has about 10 or 12 paper-cut-out running strides - or 18" - left before he reaches it.
Sunday. Still not wasting time on
Facebook. Being slapped on the wrist for friending too many bookshops
might be a blessing in disguise.
Saturday. Still beautifully sunny. Warm in the sun, chilly in the shade; that time of year.
Visit Ben for his lesson in Buda. We look briefly at this article about strong Artificial Intelligence, or
AGI (G = General) as David Deutsch calls it. Interesting to see that (1) a physicist accepts that a "breakthrough in philosophy" will be needed for AI to work (not quite sure what such a thing might be or if philosophy is quite how Deutsch imagines it, however sympathetically he sees its importance here) and yet that (2) a physicist also thinks that "the very laws of physics imply that artificial intelligence must be possible" (do they? how?). In an interesting moment he contrasts two sets of English pioneers - the team of Cambridge mathematician Charles Babbage and early systems analyst Ada Lovelace with their mid-19th-century cogwheel-operated Difference Engine and Analytic Engine - and then the mid-20th-century Cambridge mathematician, cryptographer, and theorist of modern computing Alan Turing. Deutsch contrasts them like this "Here is where Babbage and Lovelace's insight failed them. They thought that some cognitive functions of the human brain were beyond the reach of computational universality." A century on, of course, and Turing was not to make the same mistake, as Deutsch sees it. He had no qualms about claiming computational universality for his theoretical thought-experiment device, the Universal Computing Machine, or Turing Machine, as we now call it. Yet, looking back, is it really so obvious that Babbage and Lovelace got this point wrong and Turing got it right? After all, in designing his
Turing Test for successful AI (aka 'the Imitation Game') and in making broad claims for what a Turing Machine can simulate, does Turing not assume a philosophical position on human consciousness without quite realising it? With his realisation that philosophy matters here, you might expect Deutsch to spot this.
Finish 'Plato's Podcasts' by Mark Vernon, the other book
Julia & Richard in the Buda hills lent me last weekend. This book has the lovely idea of discussing a list of ancient Greek thinkers as people, and each chapter is a mini-biography of one philosopher, characters as diverse as Hyptia of Alexandria and Aristippus the Cyrenaic. The attempt to argue the continuing relevance of ancient Greek thought today is slightly strained in places (Plato's dialogues as being a bit like podcasts, Diogenes the Cynic's famous act of masturbating in public being a bit like Paris Hilton putting her own sex tape on the internet, Zeno the Stoic thinking about shopping being comparable to modern market research), but in general it reads well. Vernon's main message seems to be that the Greeks were most preoccupied with building character, facing up to death, and understanding love, and they still have a lot to say to us. Part of what is good in the book is Vernon's choice of thinkers to write about.
Melvyn Bragg's radio chat show from last week about Archbishop Anselm's peculiar argument that God must necessarily exist, simply reasoning from the way we think about God (as the thing greater than which we cannot imagine). Sometimes the topic is a bit bigger than fits the programme and sometimes not quite big enough, but this was an almost perfectly-sized topic in terms of giving listeners a quick overview. They run through how Aquinas & Hume & Kant discussed the argument and about how (& why) Descartes simplified it. Had never seen Spinoza's argument for the cosmos being God as a clever reversal of Anselm's reasoning. Less clear was the part on the revival of the argument by 20th-century logicians
Godel. Here the guests in the studio ran out of time, and they might have been not so keen to try to talk accessibly about modal logic in the last five minutes. My first thought while hearing this broadcast was that far from being an argument for any recognisable Christian, Jewish, or Muslim God, Anselm is really arguing for The One of Plotinus. Nor do I quite see why there has to be one greatest imaginable thing at all (as Liebniz almost says). The greatest thing or things we can imagine, might be 23 different entities all interacting with each other. Why should there be only one One? Interesting anyway.
Sudden urge to look at that verse about the pleasure domes of Xanadu. Strange how much forboding and wistfulness there is, as if something that much fun cannot be real, or cannot last, or cannot be bought except at some dark, unnamed price. Wonderfully prosaic that a visit by a
'Person From Porlock' was what broke Coleridge's memory of the dream he had woken out of and was writing into verse. Surely no French or Italian or German Romantic would have allowed an interruption so humdrum to break a reverie from other worlds. Two days ago travelled out in the early evening to IT Attila's tech start-up office again - fascinating to see how they all have the same odd atmosphere of scruffy excitement and affable confusion. This involves going a couple of stops down a HEV (suburban railway) route then walking through a nice little wood to find his office in a converted factory complex. This is the HEV line where I once missed a train by standing on the Continental side of the track: for some odd reason the Hungarians never bothered switching the directions round from those laid out by 19th-century British engineers (as they did almost everywhere else), and on this route trains still drive on the left.
Finish a copy of 'The Philosophy Gym' by Stephen Law, lent to me last Saturday in the Buda hills by Julia & Richard. This is a series of short chapters, each tackling a debate (such as grounds for thinking you are not a brain in a vat, or that people would behave immorally if everyone was atheist), and each graded for difficulty. Heartening story about Law getting chucked out of sixth-form college, becoming a postman, then discovering philosophy (at the local library?) and ending up at Oxford. Unfortunately, his thinking not as fresh as the romantic rough-diamond story might make readers hope. It's plain he doesn't see the link that makes both arguments for AI and against free will equally weak, and his chapters on eating meat, circular arguments, and claims for a deity or deities also show a conventional, if clear, mind a bit limited by current fashion. On the other hand, his chatty manner and his short, crisp sentences must have done wonders at interesting new readers in the subject. He stresses in a way few other philosophy-can-be-fun writers manage that it is an open enterprise and everyone is welcome to join in if they can play the argumentation game well enough. His one mention of Wittgenstein picks out Ludwig's family-resemblances argument against essentialism (the old idea there must be one core quality essential to all art, or all political theories, or whatever) and this idea is definitely Wittgenstein's big contribution. On page 81, he describes lemons as bitter when of course lemon is not bitter but sour, a mistake I see strangely often these days. Overall a stimulating read.
Goodness, how odd. Another job for someone out there, a stand-alone project. Contact me on
firstname.lastname@example.org if you know a good mobile-phone-app programmer. Or else please pass this message on. Urgently needed, a competent coder
with Android app experience to build a medium-sized application, a locator for a shopping centre
with internal orientation maps and menus. The app is already written for iOS, fully working on iPad and iPhone, and the firm has a Marmalade licence for anyone confident they can use Marmalade for iOS to Android conversion. Work to start at once.
Around 9pm meet Exotic Girl 1 at Keleti Railway Station for drinks fresh off the train from Vienna, joined by her friend Daniel, and then later by some affable but trashed Danish school pupils who have managed to lose two of their classmates in the dark back streets nearby. One of the Danish schoolgirls decides to leave her shoes at the cafe. After Exotic Girl 1 tells us about her starveling kitten and the outrage of being 2nd choice not 1st for an invitation to a raunchy rompish threesome with a mutual friend and his Baltic love interest, she & Daniel board the night train together. I wave them both off from platform 7 on their all-night journey into the wild, moonlit hill country of Transylvania.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
markgriffith at yahoo.com