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2014
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October 31st; Friday and properly All Souls' Eve. Esoteric Veronica puzzlingly says again I must learn to hate as well as love. She tells me to check up on March 2005. Handy the archives are online.
October 30th; Thursday. Free speech increasingly under threat. Meanwhile, I am on Tosha's radio show again, but - as we start chatting from midnight - Hallowe'en spirits disrupt the podcast software. Woo. So I'll be on air being interviewed again one week from today, 11pm CET, on November 6th. For the full 90 minutes.

October 29th; Wednesday. Finish reading a book of Ben's, called 'Tyrannosaurus Lex' about strange words and words for kinds of words, by Rod Evans. More of a set of lists than a normal book, this nonetheless contains some verbal gems to satisfy a certain kind of puzzle-hungry youngster. Antigrams, bacronyms, contranyms, chemograms (chemical elements that can be spelled entirely out of the abbreviations for chemical elements), or the lovely retronyms like 'acoustic guitar' or 'rotary phone', that only become necessary once a newer kind of guitar or telephone has been invented. If you enjoy discovering that flameproof is the longest common English word starting and ending with f, typewriter is the longest normal word you can type out with the top row of the QWERTY keyboard, former Libyan leader Muammar Khadafi gets spelled with our alphabet in 112 different ways, or that meet-her-in-the-entry-kiss-her-in-the-buttery is the longest colloquial plant name in English, then this is the book for you. I found two omissions. Among the domunyms (names for people from a place) Cestrians & Liverpudlians are in but the annoying term Mancunian left out (not for lack of space in that chapter). Elsewhere he gives as the only two words in English with y three times syzygy (heavenly bodies being in opposition) and twyndyllyngs (archaic word for twin), apologising for both being rare. Yet polygyny, proper term for the practice of one man having several wives (polygamy is broader), is far more used than either.
October 28th; Tuesday. Read 'GSM Training Material' a set of proprietary introductory notes (protecting sources here of course) made of photocopies I had spiral-bound, for how mobile-phone protocols interlock to enable two-way wireless communication. Lots of diagrams in which chunky grey building blocks, each labelled with 3 or 4 letters, sit in little stacks, explaining how the handovers are negotiated at different levels. Disappointing how engineering, once it touches on computing in any way, at once becomes a lot like local-government bureaucracy. 'Wired' magazine digs in deeper with continuing confusion over what counts as artificial intelligence. In a touching closing paragraph, the author gamely says that AI gourmet programs create unusual food combinations in cooking - this at the end of 30 years in which human chefs have been building lifetime careers coming up with unusual food combinations. Bless.

October 27th; Monday. Two blank boards lean on a house.
October 26th; Sunday. Quiet continues. I get out of bed so late I'm not going to write here when it was. More successful meditation. Some articles about the ever-irritating many-worlds interpretation in physics. One / two / three.

October 25th; Saturday. Back on Thursday, there was after dark a pause to the day-long drizzle. I went out and the grass had even half-dried in an hour or so of non-rain. Wind was strong and slightly warm. Two ten-foot-tall shrubs alternately thrashed and curtsied before me in the early night, very much dancing in the gale. Indoors I finished today the book kindly lent me by Esoteric Veronica, 'Spiral Dynamics', by Don Edward Beck and Christopher Cowan. They explicitly credit Clare Graves as the originator of the ideas in this ambitious book. It belongs to the relatively new genre of management-science-cult books that seek to explain a new way to organise companies at the same time as proclaiming a grand theory of Everything In History. A bit like Marxism with value for shareholders. It bristles with pseudo-charts, pseudo-diagrams, bullet points, and numbered and lettered subsections. There is Tier 1 and Tier 2, there are coloured sections of the spiral (representing all types of human character and motivation), X and Y situations, the business-degree rubbish never stops. Some typical writing:
"* They are the midwives who preside at the birth of new vMEMES or the rebirth of an older one that has atrophied and needs rejuvenation for the good of the Spiral.
* They often mediate between two conflicting vMEMES by focusing on win:win:win outcomes - The Power of the Third Win - namely, the health of the Spiral.
* They scan for vMEME malignancies that endanger the rest of the Spiral. This includes forces like predatory incursions from ruthless RED, virulent zealotry out of the BLUE vMEME, or the excess of materialist pragmatism that spews out of ORANGE."
Obviously, people who spew out prose like this deserve to be thrashed in the street until they're sobbing for their mothers, but beneath all this pompous management drivel, there's the outline of a plausible set of categories. The initial colours (beige: basic survival, physical needs / purple: tribal solidarity, myths, folk magic / red: brute power, kingship, ambition / blue: rules, higher order, one true faith / orange: pragmatic, cynical, utilitarian) make a kind of sense. However the meaningfulness starts to wear thin with green and yellow and turquoise which I had trouble telling apart. Some mysterious references to a next colour "coral" are dropped in but never justified. The whole system is clever-clever - an alternation between reddish self-centred colours and blueish other-centred colours is laid on top of all sorts of other stuff. The writers emphasise that "lower" points on "The Spiral" are not necessarily inferior to other colours, but at the same time there obviously is a kind of developmental bias, where groups are imagined to progress along or up this spiral somehow. So it is both a diagnostic system and a prescriptive system - often a reliable sign a neat, cool-looking idea is flawed.
October 24th; Friday. Although I feel very well, the strange feverish patch of sweat on the back of my neck keeps reappearing and the oddly intense, almost delirious, dreams continue. Almost every morning now I wake straight out of one of these dreams, jolted into the day. On the topic of poorly-thought-through details, the umbrella kindly lent to me by Esoteric Veronica has a thin strap to keep it furled, closing only when two squares (smaller than postage stamps) of velcro make contact. More velcro could easily have been used to give some choice of where to fix the loop length, but no, there is only one size of loop possible. This loop is too big to keep the umbrella tight, and quickly slides down towards the handle after an hour of carrying, so the furled canopy half puffs out and strains at the leash. Such a simple, obvious oversight spoiling a good product. Putin's & Russia's woes worsen. Julian Assange writes a slightly clunky (a few odd uses of words like 'orthogonal') but interesting article about his meeting with Eric Schmidt of Google. How implicated is Google in US foreign policy?
Rainy & dark all Thursday. Rainy & dark all Friday. Natter with Robin here in the rustic emptiness about lithe lissome sirens and the male agenda.

October 23rd; Thursday. Last night left Budapest with Robin, Zsuzsi, & Juci. Finished Lorinc's picture book 'Lomtalanitas a Feherlofia utcaban' ('Rubbish Throwing Out Day in Feherlofia Street') by Pal Bekes & Levente Szabo. A poignant tale of a boy who lives in a Budapest apartment block, and how his neighbour (a retired badger) makes him see life's joys & disappointments differently one rubbish-throwing-out day. Tastefully illustrated in soft browns & orange hues, the whole effect is quite sophisticated. Seems to be available in Russian, among other languages.
October 22nd; Wednesday. London in 6 nifty infographics. Plus those quirky clades.

October 21st; Tuesday. People who succeed early die younger?
October 20th; Monday. Women hate women bosses more than men do.

October 19th; Sunday. Grapple with laptop. Mancini film music.
October 18th; Saturday. Intriguing-looking book about Celtic Europe.

October 17th; Friday. On a crowded bus through Buda between two lessons, I ask a woman politely if I can move past her towards the back. "Are you serious?" she sneers bitterly, resentment welling up as disbelief that I could make such a request. Yes I'm serious, I reply, there's more room down there. Over several stops I inch my way towards the back where a new wave of angry standing women passengers are packing themselves around an empty seat. Strictly speaking this is a curious one-and-a-half-width seat which takes up almost the same width as two single seats but with no divide. Perhaps designed for one monstrously fat person. One thin weary man smelling of drink is sitting there, leaning against the window, leaving plenty of room to his right. I ask the angry women if they would like to sit in the vacant "half-seat" area, wider than anyone's buttocks. "That's not a seat", says one of the women at me, seething. It's obviously a seat, I say calmly. Any of us could clearly fit in it, and there would be more room for the standing people. Ambient hatred of me among the standing women edges up a notch. I squeeze past the standers and sit down, able to suddenly enjoy the spaciousness of the non-seat without even touching the thin weary man smelling of drink. See? I remark to the angry women. Plenty of room. There is space to my left, and I am not overlapping the seat edge on my right. "That's not a seat", repeats the cross woman in the way some women have of never ever admitting they're wrong. Probably they loathed having no choice but to sit next to a man with an alcohol aroma, and in the heat of their indignation felt that no-one else must sit there either. After a while, my asking which stop to get off at accidentally wakes the weary man up. He and a pretty girl with dark hair are the only passengers who can describe clearly exactly which stop I need. The man knows which direction I should go in from there. He is friendly. He explains I must go through a set of underpass tunnels. I get off the bus and descend into the underworld. Tunnels are painted in that shrill-but-tired 1970s orange-cum-pink that throughout Europe signals urban decay, left-wing politics, industrial unemployment. Large, clear signs are placed at corners for stairs to different bus and tram routes, although none mention tram number 1, the most important one. I quickly get out of the warren of tunnels at the right place, however, by following the thin weary man's instructions.
October 16th; Thursday. Confirmation that Nixon (and Kissinger) sabotaged Vietnam peace talks in 1968 to win the presidency. My Apple laptop is sick. Again.

October 15th; Wednesday. More news (from the journal that bites the hand that feeds IT) about ice sheets not quite being time bombs after all: one / two / three.
October 14th; Tuesday. As we get into the car with our bags ready to drive to Vac in intermittent cloud & sun, the chestnut horse Solero is munching grass a few yards away. I step towards it to wish it goodbye. The horse, sensing an opportunity, comes right up to me and buries his whole head in my chest and armpit. He rubs his face against my shirt vigorously to get rid of some flies. That might count as a farewell gesture, I suppose. During the drive across country, I talk - at perhaps a bit too much length - about what I take to be the Romantic mistake in seeking the forgotten spiritual at the interface between the mind and the body, somewhere in the dark, visceral labyrinth of the Gothic Novel. Tasty lunch in the country town of Vac, a little up the Danube north of Budapest, at a restaurant with outdoor tables softly playing what a previous generation might have called testcard music. Later we enter a bathroom-fittings showroom in Obuda with background music slightly jazzier & more ...Latin? The showroom has lots and lots of bath taps & wall tiles.

October 13th; Monday. I finish Laura's copy of 'Divergent', a novel by Veronica Roth (that link contains plot spoilers if you read too much). Like the Hunger Games books another of my students lent me last year, this is a dystopian story aimed at young adults set in a post-apocalyptic version of the USA. In this case it's a crumbling metropolis (roughly based on Chicago) seemingly half a century or so into the future. Or perhaps an alternative version of the present. Society in the future is divided into five big tribes or "factions" with clearly-defined lifestyles & missions, and all 16-year-olds must decide whether to stay in the faction their family brought them up in, or whether to change faction and be almost completely cut off from their family. A parable of growing up, complete with the familiar US teenage horrors of fitting into cliques, being popular etc, combined with the never-ending American adult ache for identity, roots, a lineage, a code to live by. Although in parts it had the slightly stripped-down feel of a video game, the page-turning effect works. Moralistic and surprising without being too cloying. Of course words like Erudite or Abnegation or Amity (names of factions) count as exotic language for most of the target readers, so they function here a bit like Burgess's Russian-based street slang phrases in Clockwork Orange. Apparently this novel was written on a creative-writing course, which is interesting to know.
October 12th; Sunday. Robin sits at an outdoor table sipping warm milky coffee nearby while I try out the trampoline, chatting with him about meditation. My chunky glass of cold black coffee is between us on the wooden bench. Solero the horse wanders up, bends his head over the back of the wooden bench, and starts trying to fit his nose and mouth into my tumbler of cold coffee, not knocking it over, but sliding it around on the wooden bench. He is clearly very interested by the scent of the coffee. Robin tells him several times to stop it and finally the horse reluctantly agrees to leave my drink alone.

October 11th; Saturday. I take a train to Kuszentmarton after dark, and since part of the track is up, we are decanted off the train and onto a bus for a 15-minute ride, and then back onto the train. Hungarians handle this sort of thing rather well in general, with big clear notices, lots of people in uniforms standing around directing passengers, and surprising amounts of common sense.
October 10th; Friday. Kirigami, or paper cut-out doilies, as clothing.

October 9th; Thursday. More of the interesting rumours swirling around since Hockney's interesting book again suggesting that Renaissance painters used either early photography or quasi-photographic tools, hundreds of years before Niepce finally fixed light-sensitive chemicals in the 1830s. Recalling young Lorinc's striking dream from a fortnight back that he and a tiger playmate in a jungle discovered a hanging rope, went up it and found themselves in a higher desert where Lorinc had to play the piano for an audience.
October 8th; Wednesday. Occasional tantalising flashbacks of warm sunny weather. Expensive engagement rings predict divorce - is that good news or bad?

October 7th; Tuesday. More of this trend where you're guilty until you prove yourself innocent.
October 6th; Monday. Read an old exhibition catalogue, beautifully illustrated, in Robin's library, for a 1985 Tate Gallery retrospective of the paintings of 'Francis Bacon'. The essays inside about Bacon's working method, his influences, and his artistic obsessions are well-expressed without getting entirely to the core of Bacon's ghastly on-canvas chamber of horrors. Not quite expressionist, not quite portraitist, Bacon's sitters hover somewhere between abstraction and the figurative, surrounded by flat blocks of house paint, smeared or scratched oils, and cloud trails of aerosol spray-on colour. Inspired (as the critics mention in this catalogue) by an awful line from the Greek playwright Aeschylus about a "smile that reeked of blood", Bacon's figures almost decompose into suffering blobs with open wounds instead of faces. He is fascinated by the glistening shine of spittle. For me they always seemed a mixture of the slightly puerile shock/horror side to British avant-garde you see in film-makers like Peter Greenaway or the 1960s playwrights set loose by the removal of the Lord Chancellor's right to censor stage plays, and something else more important. Bacon is struggling to cut a path between the abstract & the figure, and the difficulty he has doing so is testament to how dehumanising the background effect of abstract painting had already become, how removed from most viewers' sympathy and respect was the painted person by the 1940s. Bacon tries to steer clear of the main currents of 20th-century art, tries to do something alone, entirely his own, with post-Cubist, post-Expressionist, post-Surreal depiction, and what he finds left in this bleached-out artistic space is pretty desolate.

October 5th; Quiet Sunday. Tunelet.
October 4th; Saturday. Under white, cloudy skies take train to Kecskemet. Zsuzsi & Letty pick me up from the station. Later Robin photographs the front page of the magazine carrying my latest article.

October 3rd; Friday. A 2-hour conversation lesson spans universal consciousness and bullion, which I chirpily suggest is made of moonbeams & sunbeams held hostage in dungeons.
October 2nd; Thursday. Start groundwork for the #purewater project.

October 1st; Wednesday. Spend whole day sleeping on sofa, dreaming strange bacterial dreams: feverishly vivid, yet oddly mundane in content. Speaking of the inner world of bodies, hormones, and overwhelming moods, here's a guide to women's cycles based on peer-reviewed studies, but with nicely laid-out visuals.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com