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phone texts to Skype = mark-griffith
Thursday. At 3am (so Friday morning really) outside in light drizzle I pass a cheerful Hungarian couple in their 20s wheeling a clingfilm-wrapped washing machine along on an old-fashioned trolley of the kind the porters let you borrow at college. Giggling from their nest-building high, they chose a good moment to move the white goods - streets completely empty. Things seem to be getting boisterous in Spain. Madrid has stepped in to stop the Catalan provincial government from holding an independence referendum. This early August broadcast of the Russian girl-DJ radio show rather better than usual: #441. Perhaps something to do with her male colleague pogo-ing around in the foreground. Cheery bouncy Slavs!
Wednesday. Finish a book kindly lent me by Lorinc's father Mihaly. 'A Murder of Quality' from 1961 is interesting because apparently it was John Le Carre's one departure into the classic detective story from writing spy novels. Seeing George Smiley solve a murder at a public school somewhere like Dorset I was struck by how much he's another Poirot, Marple, Sherlock, Father Brown in other books, just shifted sideways into espionage. All the descriptions of him as ordinary yet shrewd, self-effacing yet sharp, good listener quietly judging others and so on suddenly fall into the classic Amateur Detective mould. I had read about 20 pages during previous days' tram journeys when suddenly all lights go out in the whole building. The staircase and balconies show two people wandering around by the light of their smartphones. Going outside into the rain I find that even the shopping centre is on emergency lighting, with the giant underground supermarket and much of the street in complete darkness. Back in my flat I light three half-burned candles still lodged in the hollows of an egg box from the last time I used them, and settle down to finish the Le Carre book by candlelight.
Tuesday. Women's brains full of male lovers' DNA. Study claims drop in testosterone sparked beginnings of civilisation. Book review harks back to Darwin's work on evolution of sexiness. Meanwhile China bans BitCoin exchange and coin-mining executives from leaving the country - is Peking scared?
Monday. Man beheads woman, but then refuses to stop eating her corpse, so police shoot him. South Africa keeping it real.
Sunday. New security hack: Israeli researchers use infrared signals to take control of CCTV cameras.
Saturday. More about strange sonic weapons being used in Cuba.
Friday. Library scan yields fresh ancient languages.
Thursday. Female scholar on Viking warrior women.
Wednesday. Chinese village grows QR-code garden.
Tuesday. There's hope! Study says cute women prefer ugly men.
Monday. Perhaps a reason not to ink.
Sunday. I remember two days ago standing in the sun outside my apartment building in my Friday jacket and tie holding up a shoelace. I must have looked like some tedious Beckett character. I was silently pondering if I could spare a moment to go to the shoelace shop (yes there's a "shoe accessory" store three streets away). One of the older, more dignified, ladies in the building (I say hello to her sometimes in the lift) chanced by. She asked me where I was headed, and I told her, deciding against the shop as we talk. Ten minutes later back inside she suddenly rings the doorbell of my flat and gives me a handful of neatly tied shoelaces, muttering something about her husband not needing them any more. Meanwhile, after another interesting morning lesson with Boardgame Orsolya where we touch on help from God, in the late afternoon have a coffee & fruit juice with The Yellow Dress Girl. She tells me I must learn how to wish.
Saturday. A couple of days ago I was in the bakery-cafe where the Croatian pirates sometimes take their children. A pigeon flew in and began strutting around under some tables confusedly looking for the way out again. I unsuccessfully try to shoo it out, and one of the waitresses (Flora) casually says "Oh, look it's Feri." She carefully corners Feri (Frank), firmly but gently gathers him into both her hands and helps him out of the doorway. For a second I'm puzzled at her having given him a name, but then I look outside at the square again. In place of several dark-grey pigeon-shaped blobs scanning under tables for pastry crumbs a second before, I suddenly see a range of shades from almost white birds with grey bars and markings to almost-black birds with different tones of mid and dark grey feathers standing out on back and wings.
Friday. I finish a book sent to me by kind Amanda, 'The Middle Sea' by John Julius Norwich. He warns us from the outset that his heart sank when he got the commission, but the simple ambition of relating all the most important things that happened in the Mediterranean over the centuries, gives the book a pleasantly modest feel. Interesting breakdown on the unification of Italy, and some fascinating might-have-beens from late mediaeval Sicily. Then in the evening a sudden crushing sense of defeat and exhaustion. Aware that the biggest solar flare in a decade, shot out by an X9-class storm on the 6th, hit Earth's atmosphere today, I wonder if this can affect mood (and if so, why not everybody?)
Thursday. Two more classes have students who get sent to different rooms. But the ones who reach me are very jolly & likeable.
Wednesday. Early teaching start. Would be interesting to study this. Meanwhile Britain's yeomanry keep up standards: urinating man's loyal girlfriend punches other man for criticising him.
Tuesday. First night class at the Technical University. I'm in the designated room on the 8th floor at 6.30pm, no-one else is. Turns out my students got sent to a room on the 6th floor. Once a kind colleague brings us together, introductory lesson quite a success.
Monday. Why are women more religious? Every answer here but one.
Sunday. Years after we gave warning, more pessimism about China.
Saturday. Cubans using covert sound weapons?
Friday. Japanese newly-weds vacuum-sealed. 'Breathtaking', hur hur.
Thursday. At the gym again. After noticing a fuzzy black-and-white photo with names in the changing rooms offering coaching, outside I spot the girl with the kung-fu/water-polo physique supervising another lass among the machines. I ask if she is Adel, the trainer or coach? Posing slightly to show off her gorgeous figure, she keeps a dead straight face and purrs "I'm the hardener". Although that's another normal Hungarian term for gym coach, this cis-male bachelor took due note.
Wednesday. Suppose you could pay people to debate fairly?
Tuesday. Atmospheric snaps of car races taken with an old camera.
Monday. The lawn outside the studio is dotted with small white flowers. Each has five wide petals, forming a spray of almost regular pentagons scattered across the grass. Robin & I peel potatoes and chop onions as Zeno cooks more meals of formidable meatiness. We leave after dusk to drive into Budapest.
Sunday. We reached Robin's house just before dusk last night, finding it empty, playing classical music to itself quietly as usual via the kitchen radio. As I went to bed, found a few wasps were once again exploring the area around the bed upstairs in the studio. I'm woken up several times by a moth or butterfly battering its wings against the glass of the windows I haven't opened for it, bringing back memories of undead lepidoptera at Robin's place. Finally at half past four I step into the main house, enjoy an ice-cold bath, and return to the studio to sleep on the downstairs sofa instead. Wake hours later to the mumbling sound of a horde of insects plotting rebellion. Glance upstairs to see the moth has been replaced by a mass of 60 or 70 wasps wandering around the window frames muttering to each other. Chat to Zsuzsi outside, and her horse Solero tries to tug me a bit on his rope. When he fails to topple me over, he stands four-square to gather his dignity, throws his head back, bulges his eyes, and gives me a haughty look down his long equine nose. I upbraid him for being a naughty Dobbin. Zsuzsi meanwhile is trying to spread some kind of anti-mosquito oil into his legs and flanks. She dodges around his moving form grumbling as the chestnut stallion takes his lordly ease strolling about the lawn chewing random plants. Later in the day back in the studio, Robin, barefoot and dressed only in something like a towel, skilfully removes four window frames and persuades the wasps to fly free, dodging their protests. He and Zeno describe to me however how he failed to dodge being stung by a horse fly earlier in the morning, the second sting injecting enough venom that Robin was briefly seeing extra colours pulsing around Zeno's head like an aura.
Zsuzsi several hours after all this gets into a panic about missing the late-afternoon train back to Budapest which her friend Juci is already on, with their tickets, so I leave with her that second to look after the car once she boards the train. We whizz along dusty, lumpy lanes laid with elderly tarmac past sun-baked yellow trees, Zsuzsi accelerating with girly vigour into the bends on the windy roads. We reach a railway station I have never got off or on at, downline of where she should have caught the train. It's called 'Homok' (Sand). A doubtful boy sits in silence with us on the red-painted bench as we wait ten minutes for the train.
Approaching the farm an hour later, Robin demonstrates how you can fool a dustcloud behind a car by feinting to the left and then suddenly switching to the right, so the silly dustcloud decides to take the left turn and part company.
Saturday. See Boardgame Orsolya at 11am, at the strange mid-floor cafe, downstairs in the mall from where we used to have our lessons, between the cheap silver jewellery stall and the vast, brightly-lit Spar store. I hear about her latest office manager. Get back to flat with time for a cold bath before Robin appears with his car for a sudden trip to the countryside in hot sun. At one point, we're strolling round an air-chilled provincial supermarket: I with trolley cheerily strike up conversations with various groups of alarmed-looking country folk, Robin in contrast speaking directly to food items on the shelves. "It's amazing actually what I don't buy in supermarkets" he remarks at one point to an array of Greek yoghourts.
Friday. Spend a couple of hours trying to find the charming folk a possible primary-school teacher to replace me. Have been trying to slow down time recently, and time seems to be complying. It's been August now for ages.
Today managed some arm training in the cheap techno/rap fitness gym, and note that a girl both curvy yet toned seems to be training a floppy-haired Oxford undergrad who lolls against weights-machine frames while listening to her instructions. Only close up do I see that the male Waugh character with overlong 1930s hair is actually another girl. Trying not to read too much into the tableau, I watch the female trainer with the water-polo/kung-fu physique watching the other female.
Thursday. Present my apologies to the charming folk at nearby primary school, half wishing I could indeed teach their doubtless adorable & bouncy 6-year-olds. Teach IKEA Zita for the first time in a few weeks: her new strawberry blonde rinsed cut with hair up, chunky necklace, and (she claims) soft pink pullover which looks beige indoors under the office lights, change her strikingly. She tells me about her holidays. How a sandy beach without shade on one bank of the Tisza was so hot in the sun, people had to shriek out little squeaking songs of pain to dance across the hot sand before diving in the river. She also mentions a hole in the ceiling at her home, tells me about the lions and the miniature pig at the petting zoo, and relates her maintenance woes with her red motor car. Like all women drivers who own a vehicle (or most?) she has a pet name for her little mechanical companion. I am honoured when she shares it with me. An hour later at her flat, sweet Jessica tells me about her good friend Melissa, describing her as a "Microsoft Licensing Whisperer". She then shows me some bits of US television before we visit her favourite restaurant. In order these short but rather lovely snatches are 'Dream of the 90s' ("Portland's a city where young people go to retire!"); Clarifying for me the term 'lumbersexuals' with 'Dream of the 1890s'; Quizzing the restaurant waitress about Colin the chicken; Then checking the farm where Colin was raised. As Jessica & I enter the Obuda restaurant where she loves the traditional fish soup, the man at the front desk says he'll take just one second to decide - and he does. It takes exactly one second. As he leads us to a table past a group of majestically fat Gypsy musicians taking a break, we pass someone telling his dinner companions "-- so while they were working on the regular fission bomb --". Tremendous energy.
Wednesday. Vital news from the future: I can't be the only person who when number bases were introduced in school maths hoped we could have an afternoon of doing sums in Babylonian base 60. Australian archeologists now rediscover its advantages.
Tuesday. Rather wonderful claim that men build technology firms to replace their mothers.
Monday. At some point yesterday, had the most extraordinary lucid dream. Some sort of after glow lasted for at least an hour after waking.
Sunday. I finish the wonderful 'Confederacy of Dunces' sent to me by kind Amanda. Meant to read it for years, never did, worth the wait. A cartoonish set of characters live in a suburb of New Orleans at some point in the 1960s, and unforgettable comic scenes unfold in the office of a decaying clothing firm, a late-night bar of dubious repute, and a police station where patrolmen 'Mongoloid Mancuso' is punished by his sergeant by being forced to walk the streets in a variety of outlandish disguise costumes. Mancuso's ordeal culminates in several weeks of having to lurk all day in the bus station gentlemen's conveniences struggling through a copy of 'Consolations of Philosophy' by Boethius. Successful farce, alleged by some playwrights to be the hardest kind of genre to write, is usually only seen on stage or occasionally film. This is one of the best examples of farce I've seen rendered as novel. Of course one wonders whether Toole the author was writing himself and his mother into the story, given that his mother doggedly hawked her son's manuscript around after his suicide until it was finally "discovered" and proclaimed a work of genius, as it's now routinely described. Without giving too much of the plot away, more than one character finally achieves liberation from a smothering relationship. Laughed out loud more often than anything I've read for a couple of years.
Saturday. Apparently Pornhub reveals that breasts are no longer fashionable. Probably the same researcher that claims internet searches show more women than men enjoying scenes of sexual violence against women.
Friday. Nice artwork, but will the articles disappoint?
Thursday. More fun ways to confuse self-driving cars. Poor little things.
Wednesday. Intelligent mathematician cheerfully asserts that AI won't work because people aren't clusters of algorithms. Uses slightly odd vector analogy to argue this, but heart & mind in right places at least.
Tuesday. A couple of nights ago, just last week, I noticed that a late-opening bar I pass on the way to one particular night shop had changed its name a few days before. An alert-looking woman in the doorway confirmed to me she was the new owner. It's now named, in hard-to-read gold squiggly lettering on a white disc, 'My Hollywood Coffe (sic) & Drink Bar' but more memorably was named up until a fortnight ago in chunky capitals '--- Drink Bar' in capitals with the "I" of 'Drink' replaced by a glass of red wine. Rather than being a tall I-like flute glass, they chose the type with a U-like round glass bowl mounted on a stem. This meant that every time I walked under it, I read the sign flickering between 'Drink Bar' and 'Drunk Bar'. No longer.
Monday. Meet Levente & Balint for a demo. On the way out someone, at the table-football machine every coders' den has to have, gallantly says my English sounds very good. I say the secret to good English is practise, practise, practise. More laughter.
Sunday. Another book about the ex-homeless ex-meth-addict's cat 'The World According to Bob', inspiring and dreary in turns. A lot of phrases like "with the benefit of hindsight" pepper the pages. Perhaps that's how writer/cat-owner James Bowen speaks. This time there are occasional drawings of the cat, giving the tome a slightly prewar feel. Makes me feel churlish to say it, but another depressing read, even with the happy ending. It's a chugger book to feel good about buying but not actually to enjoy reading. It's one long succession of cat-gets-ill, man-gets-ill, man-gets-thumped, cat-defends-man, man-gets-reported stories which don't link up, but trudge along like the writing. It helps some readers perhaps learn how tough busking or selling a homeless magazine on the streets is, but however special that cat is, one of these books is more than enough.
Saturday. Out with Robin and his barrister/composer friend, Michael. Adorable waitress. Composer shows me on his laptop how Nyman just copies a melody from Purcell. Michael frankly describes Nyman as a shameless plagiarist.
Friday. Article from one of our contributors shows the Russian-hacking claims against President Honey Monster finally falling apart.
Thursday. A Russian group prove in principle a way to defend against brute-force faking of blockchain hashes. Quantum, cryptocoin, all the exciting stuff.
Wednesday. 2 climate-change articles: 1) German group predicts 50 years of climate cooling from an overlaid set of cycles that meets good retrodiction tests; 2) some physicists check 6 planets (Earth + 5) to arrive at a new human-independent theory for planetary heat which also matches known data.
Tuesday. A woman MP in the Labour party claims that left-wing male chauvinists are "the worst". I think I knew that already, but does saying that make me a 'mansplainer'?
Monday. I suppose if enough people talk the panpsychist talk, it might start to sound sane.
Sunday. Interesting dinner with an Ethereum developer.
Saturday. Late afternoon do some Tarot readings for Mate & his girlfriend. In the morning, however, wake out of curiously intense dreams about proliferating trees of possibilities having branches rejoining main storylines, like a kind of basketwork, both bifurcating and regrafting. Had these before a couple of decades ago, but makes slightly more sense this time.
Friday. So not only does President Trump have a time machine, now there's a 19th-century book to explain it all. Steven talks me round!
Thursday. Giving her hot-desking office a rest, Zita & I have our lesson inside IKEA itself, sitting at a desk in the business-decor section like a pair of actors. Groups of shoppers pass us, winding through the warehouse on the squiggly this-way path. I suggest how point-of-sale furniture videos could be revolutionised. Earlier that day, hiding from hot sun, a very productive lunchtime coffee with Levente & Balint.
Wednesday. Merriment until after dark on a main street, seated outside a cafe full of detached car seats. Fahad, Levente, Janos keep pressing beers on me, the scoundrels.
Tuesday. 1) How Uber drivers game the price algorithms; 2) Scepticism over genetic influence predicts for dislike of science; 3) Now there's a "sunken continent" called 'Zealandia'? 4) Some researchers think sperm counts have halved - at least in some countries; 5) Oh, ancient British genes might be Basque after all.
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