Archive for January, 2016


January 31, 2016

2016-01-31In_slaap_gesust'_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-2378I like the word “lap.” It’s short, and it combines the softness of “l” and the explosiveness of “p”. I began liking it for its exotic nature when I came across the word while learning English at school. The word sounded exotic because it had no exact equivalent in Ukrainian. The phrase “the boy was sitting in his mother’s lap” was translated into my native language as “the boy was sitting on his mother’s knees.” I also savored the wit of an English riddle “What part of your body disappears when you stand up?”, the answer to which was “lap.” The word “lap-dog” was for me a small, friendly, loving, floppy-eared creature which was lapping milk from a plate. When I grew into English, I recognized the positive connotations of “living in the lap of luxury,” of an opportunity that “drops into someone’s lap,” or a job that can also “fall” into it.

Quite recently, in our digital age, I read a motto over the entrance to a bookshop: “There is no app to replace your lap. Read to your child.” Yes, those were happy moments when both of our kids were sitting in their parents’ laps, and my wife and I were reading to them stories and fairy tales, showing them pictures and teaching them their first Ukrainian letters and their first English words. Later, after that “prime push”, they entered schools, they travelled widely, they wrote dissertations, they had interesting jobs…

Now, when we talk with our children so far away from us, and see their warm eyes and smiles, we still feel them sitting in our laps…


January 30, 2016

There’s an avalanche of new coinages on the Internet today. My advice for learners of English is: know those nonce-words (most of them are just flashes-in-the-pan), but don’t idolize them. I’ve tried to demonstrate the absurdity of the jargonized English in an invented crammed story below.


It was nothing but a flightmare (1) – with a delay and a missed connection crowned with the baggravation (2) when Henry had to wait for his luggage for about an hour and a half. The airport was busy, though it was quite normal for a winterval (3). To make things worse, the baggage area was a nonspot (4). Henry was overwhelmed with web rage (4a) and had to wait until he could leave the area and go online. It was great, of course, to be a non-liner (5), as he had been when he was vacationeering at the end of the world, miles from nowhere. But, eventually, such isolation turns to be too much of a good thing, and Henry was looking forward to connecting with his e-quaintances (6) and all of the Manchester United fandom (7).

(1) Unpleasant air travel experience (2) A feeling of annoyance and frustration at the airport when your baggage has not arrived but the other passengers’ bags have (3) A festival that takes place in winter. (4)An area where there is slow Internet access or no connection at all. (4a) Anger or frustration as a result of difficulties or problems encountered when using the Internet. (5) Someone who rarely or never uses the Internet, usually because they cannot access it. (6) A person you know only through online networks. (7)The fans of a particular person, team, etc. regarded collectively as a community.

Earlier Henry was what they called a solopreneur (8), afterwards he got employed at a large company and started making a pretty penny. His friends even called him a HENRY (9)… However, that didn’t last long, and now he is funemployed (10) enjoying his permanent staycation (11), binge-watching (12) docusoaps (13), and guesstimating (14) his chances for employment. “I’m having Me-time (15)”, he said about himself. The other day his former colleague invited Henry to visit with him. The colleague spoke about his trip to Italy showing some selfies, and about the Italian cuisine (he is a locavore(16)), but those legsies (17) and foodmoirs  (18)were actually a kind of humblebragging (19) and in no way impactful (20) for Henry.  

(8) A person who is the owner of their business and runs it alone (9) high earner not rich yet .(10) Someone who enjoys not having a job because they have more time for leisure and fun activities. (11) A vacation in which you stay at home and relax or visit places close to where you live. (12) Watch multiple episodes of a TV programme in rapid succession. (13) a reality television programme in the style of a documentary. (14) A rough estimate without any claim of accuracy. (15) A period of time spent exclusively on yourself doing something that you enjoy and allows you to relax.(16) A person who only eats food produced locally.(17) A photograph taken by yourself of your suntanned legs to show that you are enjoying your holiday.(The sand and sea are usually visible in the picture.) (18) An account of someone’s life or personal experiences, with a strong emphasis on food, often including recipes and cookery advice.(19) To say something with apparent modesty but at the same time actually boast about an achievement. (20) Having a great impact or effect, or making a strong impression.

The baggage arrived at last. Henry took out the dumbphone (21) (his smartphone had been stolen: there were lots of applepickers (22) nowadays) and phoned his wife asking her to pick him up. He had no car at the moment: it had been frostjacked (23) shortly before Christmas (there were lots of carnappers (24) nowadays), so they were sharing Mary’s car now. It was a company car: Mary got a promotion at work, but her new position looked more like a glass cliff (25).

(21) An early model of a mobile phone with limited functionality. (22) Steal someone’s iPhone (23) Stealing a car on a cold day when the owner leaves the engine running to defrost the windows. (24) A person who steals a car. (25) Refers to a situation where women are selected for positions when there is a strong likelihood of failure.

When at home, Henry had his brinner (26) in the shabby-chic (27) kitchen and opened his netbook. Now he was going to netpick (28) some info. He didn’t suffer from infomania (29), he was just info-hungry. He belonged to the glorious netizens’ (30) fraternity and was just finishing a blook (31) , which required some binge-thinking (32). Maybe, some bookaholics (33) will buy the blook. The blook will be copylefted (34), and posted on a content farm (35), so it won’t infringe anybody’s copyright. He downloaded quite a number of apps. “Good thing that the software is laymanised (36)nowadays”, Henry thought. However, he had a big issue with passwords – a password fatigue (37), to be exact.

(26) A meal served in the evening consisting of food usually eaten at breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausages, pancakes, etc.). (27) Cottage-style decor achieved by using worn or “distressed” furniture and neutral-coloured fabrics, or new items suitably treated to appear old and look comfortable (28) to surf the internet looking for information in order to impress others with knowledge (29) Constantly checking and responding to email and text messages. (30) Blend of ‘internet’ and ‘citizen’. A person who spends an excessive amount of time on the internet. (31) A blend of ‘book’ and ‘blog’ :  a book written by a blogger. (32) Thinking excessively about a problem in a short period of time. (33) A compulsive book buyer or a prolific reader. (34) Opposite of copyright. Whereas copyright imposes restrictions on the distribution of a work or publication, copyleft eliminates restrictions and allows freedom of use for all. (35) A website that publishes large amounts of low-quality content, or content copied from elsewhere, in order to attract visitors and improve its search-engine rankings (36) To simplify technical information so that it can be understood by ordinary people or non-specialists. (37) Being tired of having to remember a large number of passwords for different electronic devises.

The book will be written in txtese, with elements of leet (1337). Henry is no n00b. he nos nglish! He luvs 2rite. Its ez nd 1drfl! cu asap. +u!

The book will be written in a language adapted for text messages, with elements of a language where numbers and symbols approximate the shape of letters. Henry is no newbie (no newcomer). He knows English! He loves to write. It’s easy and wonderful! See you and adieu!



January 29, 2016

Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo program defeated the European Go champion among professional players. That happened last October, but was announced only yesterday: Google had been postponing the presentation of the sensation for a few months. Even with the precedent of the IBM super-computer Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997, the victory of AlphaGo is more impressive because it’s more difficult to program an artificial intelligence (AI) machine for the game that has many more possible positions (“ a googol times larger than chess”, says Google). So, it’s another step forward on the way to AI.

I browsed the Internet to find out more about the game Go. It originated in China more than 2,500 years ago. The game was considered one of the four essential arts in ancient China to be mastered by every intellectual –calligraphy, painting, playing the guqin (a seven-stringed musical instrument), and playing Go. Professionals play it on a board with 19x19grid of lines, each of the two players using 180 (white) or 181 (black) pieces, or stones. Frankly, the game didn’t capture my imagination, reminding me of the game of naughts and crosses, which also goes under the name of tic-tac-toe. However, it’s played by more than 40m people worldwide (mainly in the countries of the Far East). We also have our own Ukrainian Go champion of year 2015 from the regional center of Rivne who ranks as a 6-dan amateur (with Go, there are 1-7 dans for amateurs and 1-7 dans for professionals).

It was more interesting to read about the program AlphaGo, which is principally different from Deep Blue. AlphaGo combines an advanced tree search with deep neural works, and it LEARNS to discover new strategies for itself by using a trial-and-error process known as reinforcement learning. In future, the strategies and technique tested on AlphaGo may be used for climate control, or for diagnosing people’s diseases and their treatment.

Robot designers predict that at some point humans and machines will merge into cyborgs, trans-humans with physical and mental abilities far exceeding a human counterpart.

The word “cyborg” is widely known in Ukraine. You come to any person in the street and ask if they know who cyborgs are and the answer will be “yes.” The name was used for the soldiers who were defending the Donetsk airport against the separatists and the Russian troops. The defense lasted 242 days. The soldiers were exclusively volunteers. For 8 months they were being under artillery fire and rocket attacks, and each time, when the enemy thought there was no one left alive in the ruins of the airport and started moving towards them the cyborgs rose up again. Such is Ukraine’s fate: to have its own cyborgs before the world has them.


January 28, 2016

2016-01-28mathWhile studying to be a teacher of English, I did supervised teaching in a primary school. At one of the lessons I had to introduce numbers, so after reading a respective chapter in a methodology book, I wrote on the board two columns of math problems that included addition and subtraction, split the class into two teams and told them to compete against each other in solving the problems: the left column of the problems was to be done by the team on the left and the right column – by the team on the right in the classroom.  The pupils knew math well enough to subtract or add, and this time they were only to train their language skills by articulating in English what they were doing. Of course, mathematical correctness counted too. A pupil from each team waited for their turn to rush to the board, do their own problem and return to their seat, while the next person from the team picked up the baton and did the next problem. It took longer for slower pupils to do the job, those who were more advanced did it in the blink of an eye. When the language-and-math shuttle race was over, a girl from the team which lost burst into tears and I had to run for a glass of water for the girl. Since that time I never arranged any competitions during my lessons.

I remembered the episode when I read Danielle Sensier’s poem Experiment. Danielle Sensier is a published author and an editor of children’s books. Some of her books are Costumes (Traditions Around the World), Masks (Traditions from Around the World), Poems About Weather, and Poems About Journeys.


at school we’re doing growing things

with cress

sprinkly seeds in plastic pots

of cotton wool.

Kate’s cress sits up on the sill

she gives it water.

mine is shut inside the cupboard

dark and dry.

now her pot has great big clumps

of green

mine hasn’t

Mrs Martin calls it Science

I call it mean.




January 27, 2016

globeMy FB friend posted the address which helps find the antipodal point of any location (the point on the other side of the Earth defined by a straight line running from the origin point, through the center of the Earth and intersecting the Earth on the other side): Just as my friend, I was a bit disappointed at first when, having whizzed through the center of the globe, I emerged in the middle of nowhere – wallowing in the waters of the South Pacific, with more than 1800 miles to New Zealand in the West, 3100 miles to Cape Froward in the Magellan Strait and 2000 miles to the Antarctic. But… all of a sudden, I saw my antipode: he was just there, at my side, dashing past me in a sailboat. He was young and strong, with little life experience but with the future in which he believed. He was being beaten by joyful winds and had friends in every corner of the planet. He knew where he was going and he knew that he would reach his destination. He cast a condescending glance at me and smiled happily. “Can’t catch me-e-e!” he shouted before his sail turned into a white spot in the blueness of the sea and sky.

Yes, he was the opposite of me. And, of course, I couldn’t catch him. He looked (and, maybe, he was) happy. But hardly happier than me, with my post-war childhood, my village school teachers (who were respected by us also because they had once been our parents’ teachers), my student years when all of us were “language addicts”, with the years when I was writing my dissertation, with the time when my wife and I were raising our two wonderful children, with my job as lecturer and, later, as translator… With everything that is now my past, but which has formed me as I am now.


January 26, 2016

Today I watched a documentary Putin’s Secret Riches ( )which was shown on the BBC’s Panorama yesterday evening. Besides his probable involvement in poisoning Mr. Litvinenko, the Russian president is accused of looting his own country on an extraordinary scale. With his official salary of $110,000 a year, Putin is said to be in possession of $40bn in secret shareholdings – the fact which he, naturally, denies. He denies it in his usual boorish style: “They picked that information out of their own noses and smeared it all over their little papers.” However, the correspondent Richard Bilton is rather convincing in his argumentation when he produces documents proving Mr. Putin’s riches, plays back wire-tapped phone conversations, and interviews people, some of whom themselves had helped Putin to accumulate that wealth but later fell out with their patron, fled their homeland and are now on the run in other countries.

Actually, the BBC didn’t tell anyone here, in Ukraine, what we hadn’t suspected about Putin before. The same, we knew, was the case with the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. The tradition to profit from one’s job position, to use it as a personal enrichment machine by robbing one’s own country blind goes back to the Russian czars’ times.

I’m sure, the Russians won’t be surprised or indignant over the disclosed facts about their president either. “So what?” will they say, “the guy (the President) had a chance which anyone in his place would have used.” That’s why, when Brian Whitmore in his latest Daily Vertical says that the mask has come off the Putin regime for much of the world and now it remains to wonder how long it’ll be before it comes off for the Russians themselves, I smile at the naivety of these words and say to myself, “Never. Never will the mask come off for the Russians. They don’t want it to come off. They canonized czar Nicholas II into a saint, at the same time they line up in Red Square to pay homage to Lenin, the embalmed murderer of the czar; they brought Stalin (a murderer of millions upon millions of the people) back into existence, and they will be ready to idolize any nonentity just for being a “czar”…

There’s an interesting cross-cultural moment in Richard Bilton’s film which, I think, the correspondent has overlooked. While discussing Putin’s financial matters over the phone, not to reveal the true owner of the money his agents use the name “Mikhail Ivanovich” as an alias for their boss. That’s a traditional nickname for a “bear” in Russian fairy tales for children. With “Mikhail Ivanovich” being respectively the first name and the patronymic name, the surname “Toptygin” (“Trampler”) is often added to them. So, Vladimir Putin… Mihail Ivanovich Toptygin, the Russian bear… The name which, for Russians, evokes fear, respect and nostalgic love.



January 25, 2016

Brian WhitmoreThis is what Brian Whitmore, host of the Power Vertical podcast, says today in his two-minute video primer The Daily Vertical ( ):

Russians are suffering from a collective case of Stockholm Syndrom – the tendency for hostages to identify with the captors rather than oppose them. That was the assessment of a highly respected Russian sociologist Lev Gudkov in a recent interview with Ecko Moskvy. According to Gudkov, for the first time since the 1980s fear dominates society eliminating the ability of many to express their true opinions, even to family and close friends. In this sense Gudkov is skewing the results of public opinion polls in Russia. In fact, a new study by Gudkov’s employer, the Levada Center, has confirmed what many of us have long suspected: many Russians simply don’t tell pollsters the truth. According to the survey, 26% of Russians say they themselves are afraid to express the true opinion to pollsters, and more than half say they believe others are afraid to express honest opinions.

What all this suggests (assuming, of course that these respondents are telling the truth) is that Vladimir Putin’s sky-high poll numbers are wildly inflated: they are being driven, at least, to some degree, by fear. And with that it means that Putin’s Kremlin has no reason to ease up and is promoting that fear – whether that being fear of foreigners, fear of “traitors” and “fifth columnists”, or fear of the authorities themselves. Because if the fear fades, it will mean an existential threat to the regime.

From Pocket School after Felix Krivin

January 24, 2016

2016-01-24frosted windowWARMTH

It’s cold outside and the window panes are frosting up. Now they have turned quite white and you can see nothing through them. But give them a warm breath and they will open so many amazing things for you!

And you will be stunned by how much they can hold– these little frosted panes.

2016-01-24Toy BlocksCENTER OF MASS

Toy blocks are used to make all sorts of structures. You just start putting one block upon another and you’ll get a tower. It’s no more than a toy tower. However, the blocks are very earnest about their work. For them it’s not a play, but serious work.

It would be interesting to know what the toy blocks are thinking about while building the tower. And they think about quite different things. The block at the bottom thinks of how to keep the tower up. The block on top thinks about how to keep balance and not to fall down.

That is why if you remove the toy block on top, the tower won’t particularly change. But …if you take away the block at the bottom…


January 23, 2016

2016-01-23This is London by Ben JudahWhile delivering lectures in English lexicology I used to tell my students about dialects on the British Isles and, among them, about Cockney: about the phrase “to be born within the sound of Bow Bells” which is the traditional definition of a Cockney, about the rhyming slang, “h”s dropped and “h’”s added before opening vowels, etc. I told the students about my own experience of talking with Cockney people, and played back recorded Cockney voices. Today I have read that Cockney is predicted to die out in some 15 years. The prediction is contained in the book This is London: Life and Death in the World City by Ben Judah. The book will appear this coming Thursday (January 28), but a number of sites, like the Financial Times, the Amazon, Goodreads, Book Depository, the Daily Mail, and the Telegraph (definitely more, but I have looked through these only), have announced the future publication giving some brief excerpts from it. Incidentally, it’s Ben Judah’s third book, the first two (Fragile Empire about Putin’s Russia, and The Yeti Hunts about the author’s travels through Russia and Central Asia) were published in 2013. Last year Ben Judah, together with Ukrainian journalists, worked on a documentary Russia with Cash which exposed the practice of selling property in London to Russian and Ukrainian nouveaux riches by British real estate agents despite the agents’ knowing that the money paid for the property had been stolen. In September 2015 Ben Judah was interviewed in Kyiv by the International Service of Hromadske Radio (Public Radio). In his interview he said that the “oligarchic” corruption in Ukraine and Russia is also explained by the fact that the British Virgin Islands and Switzerland and the Cayman Islands were turning a blind eye to where the deposited money came from (

As you may understand, with that previous knowledge about Ben Judah and his principled, uncompromising stand, I have every reason to give credit to him and to what he writes in his latest work. And the picture of London he presents is rather gloomy.

Ben Judah writes about the results of the British successive governments relaxing immigration into the UK. Actually, it’s not the governments now, but criminal gangs who decide who comes into the UK and in what numbers. The gangs once used to blight their own countries and now, having been “imported” into Britain, they keep “supervising” their compatriots here. 40% if immigrants in London do not have a British passport. London, says Ben Judah, is no longer an English city. It’s a patchwork of ghettos. From 1971 to 2011 the white British share in London population slumped from 86% to 45%. 57% of all children born are born to immigrant mothers and nearly all who die are white British. With the uncontrolled immigration, unimaginable squalor, misery, and criminality “reminiscent of Victorian times” take hold. 96% of prostitutes are migrants. The author describes a case when a brothel was opened in a house near his son’s primary school in Hampstead. The mother of one of his son’s friends lived opposite. She was intimidated by the sinister men in leather jackets who sat in the nearby coffee shop all day. She reported to the police that the girls on the top floor looked underage and never went out. After some time her car was smashed up. That was a warning to keep her nose out of it. The mother never raised the matter again.

Local workers have problems because huge numbers of new arrivals push down wages. A manual worker complains that he earns now 7 pounds per hour, while before he earned 15 pounds for the same work. Additional payments for overtime work have gone forever.

Rich suburbs, such as Edmonton, once were “terraces of respectability.” Now they are turning into tenements for migrants. The “oldies” who live there still may be satisfied that the property market remains buoyant. As one of them says, “that’s the one true way people like me can sell up, cash in and get the hell out.”

I can only add that it’s not just London. When I was in Sheffield on an educational exchange in 1978 I was charmed by the district I lived in: a beautiful park nearby, my house which overlooked the park (the house had the name Park View), amiable neighbours with friendly smiles, a pub round the corner where we gathered almost every evening for half an hour before the closing hour…. I couldn’t recognize the place when I visited Sheffield several years ago. A depressed district, the park overgrown with weeds, broken fences, two-three families of immigrants living in every house… As regards pubs, Ben Judah in his book charts the gradual disappearance of the English by the fate of their pubs. There were 12 pubs in one place, he says. One has been turned into a Nigerian mosque, another into an Afrikko nightclub, the rest have been simply demolished.

Was there any need for a book like this? What is going on in Britain, in Europe, and (maybe, to a lesser degree) in the U.S.A. , is a secret that everybody knows. But as soon you start having an opinion which is different from one being formed by the propaganda machine, you are immediately labeled as a “racist.” I’m glad that this young, intrepid and talented writer came up with his study. Being a Londoner himself (“born and bred”) and, later, an Oxford graduate, he immersed into the world of migrants, talked with them, bedded down with them in their shelters, so he has the right to speak up about the ills of the system (or shall I say “of the chaos”?) created by those short-sighted who live in their ivory administrative towers.


January 22, 2016

2016-01-22Georgin_François,_The_3_Roads_to_Eternity,_1825Long ago I read an Indian parable which presents the idea of eternity rather vividly.

Imagine a diamond cube with an edge as long as the river Ganges is wide. Once every thousand years a raven sits down on the cube to clean its beak on the super-hard surface. The time during which the cube will be abraded down to a grain of rice will be only an eyewink of eternity.

Based on Jesus’s words about the narrow and wide gates leading to life — in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-14) — the French artist Georgin François created his “Three Roads to Eternity” (see the picture)

In The Snow Queen, Hans Christian Andersen writes about little Kay playing in the Queen’s palace with flat pieces of ice. Kay arranged pieces to spell out many words but wasn’t able to make the one word he was so eager to form. The word was “Eternity.” “If you can puzzle that out you shall be your own master, the Snow Queen said to him, and I’ll give you the whole world and a new pair of skates.”

Having read those lines, I thought that in the pursuit of their mundane, people would sooner be after the “whole world” (take the un-buried guy I mentioned in my yesterday’s blog) or “a new pair of skates” (take our Ukrainian nouveaux riches), or after both, and lose the PERSPECTIVE OF ETERNITY in the end.

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