Machines like Me by Ian McEwan

This is an Audible book that I listened to recently while I was on holiday. Listening to an enjoyable story that is engaging makes long road journeys pass so much more quickly!

It’s alternative history based on the fact that Alan Turing wasn’t turned insane by taking oestrogen tablets to cure his homosexual urges. With this in mind we end up with a very different 1980’s. We have advanced sufficiently with AI to build completely life like humans that tests what it is to be human after all. They are an exercise in humanity as it teaches us whether we can accept machines into our lives as equals.

I loved the philosophical debates that Adam engages in with his housemates Charlie and Miranda. I also loved the technical, mathematical and physics details along with the anthropological studies. Adam raises a lot of interesting questions and provokes strong emotions which you wouldn’t expect a machine to be capable of. He is not really a machine though; but a conscious being capable of existing all by himself as along as he has the same comforts were used to like shelter, sleep and fuel.

This is essentially an exploration of the contradictions of being human. This is what every child has to learn and what autistics struggle with greatly. The same things that Adam can’t comprehend are also what we have difficulties with. There is however no real solution to these issues as life is such a messy business.

Best wishes

Angela

Babies on Netflix

This is an in-depth look at the differences in children caused by parenting styles. It also seeks to find out about the social development of a child. It looks to see how responsive they are initially and incrementally.

In the first of 6 episodes they analyse oxytocin (the love hormone involved in bonding) counts in both mothers and fathers to see how it differs across pregnancy, child rearing, culture and whether the child has 2 dads, is a 3 parent family so 2 dads and the surrogate mum or a mum and a dad. Additionally they scan the brains of the adults participating to see the sizes of there hippocampus and whether there activated or not. This area is responsible for learning and is bigger in children with more distant parents leading to the refrigerator theory of the 1960s. This is not what causes autism and has since been disproved.

They also measure the cortisol (stress hormone) levels using the still face test. This is where the mum plays with and talks to the child, then sits back unresponsive to see how the child copes with this. The children notice immediately that something is different and then try to figure out what has caused. Eventually they all start crying and self soothe by putting there fingers in there mouths. When the parent returns to normal behaviour the children may over react initially but they gradually return to their happy selves.

I thought this may be the origins of thumb sucking, pacifiers/dummies, nail biting, over eating and smoking as this is all self soothing behaviour by sticking things in our mouths.

They go on to look at the other major aspects of a child’s life like food, crawling, first words, sleep which I thought they would have covered earlier and first steps.

I think this is going to be a fascinating series to watch regardless of whether you have children or not as we were all once children ourselves.

The Dodecanese Islands by Dr Michael Scott on This is Greece

This is the final part of This is Greece with Dr Michael Scott having first visited Northern and Central Greece, Athens, The Peloponnesus area of Greece, and, Cyclades Islands.

The Dodecanese (12) Islands contain Rhodes which is a fantastic historical island especially for someone like me who has an interest in the Durell family as Laurence lived there writing a book about the island which I’m yet to read. That one was called Reflections of a Marine Venus. You can visit his house Villa Kleobolus while your there too.

Rhodes was subject to many invasions over the years so it’s been fortified accordingly. It has been ruled by first the Romans then the British as part of the Crusades and the famous knights of St John or the knights hosiptaller, the Venetians spent some time here, it was owned by the Ottomans but they kept the locals ruling and it was later passed on to the Italians before finally gaining there independence.

Leros is the next stop on the tour but our guide is now an Athenian lady Elenor. There is Byzantine, medieval, Ottoman, Venetian and Italian history here just like Rhodes. Sunsets are of course a big selling point along with churches dating from the knights of St John. If your a film buff you will want to visit the island as it’s the inspiration for the film Guns of Navarone.

He also travels to Patmos famous for being the place where the biblical book of Revelations was written by St John with many churches dedicated to him, a monastery as well as its many windmills.

Symi turns up too. St Michael is the patron saint here with a magnificent church dedicated to himself as he is also patron saint of sailors in the Dodecanese.

As usual with American programs the first and the last are the most interesting with the ones in the middle being mainly composed on second grade material. He even gets other people to do tour guides for you!

Best wishes

Angela

What does Greek have against punctuation?

This is a clip that a friend of mine posted online with Greek and English plus an auto translation below.

What confuses me the most when trying to figure out the Greek language is where do you take a breath? There are no commas, semi colons or full stops. There isn’t even any speech marks, exclamation marks or question marks!

The Greeks also have a love of sentences that start with And. I think this maybe because they are trying to artificially add in punctuation in newspaper articles. It’s very confusing trying to figure out which words belong in which sentence since they run on forever!

Spanish I think may have the opposite problem of using exclamation marks at the beginning as well as the end. Kind of like the Spanish themselves being very enthusiastic.

I haven’t learnt sufficient about other languages like Russian yet, to be able to comment properly; but from what I’ve seen far they don’t seem to have the same issues.

Do you have any issues like this in languages you have learnt?

Best wishes

Angela

Greek language blogs

These are blogs that I’ve started following as in order for me to be able to talk I need to read an awful lot of content from native speakers on varied subjects. I didn’t publish anything for the National Greek Language Day that we just had and I was reminded that I should get back to my language studies again.

Best wishes

Angela

Today’s lesson

I have learnt today that you can block yourself from achieving what your heart desires via the psychological blockages that are present in your brain. This is responsible for over learning and trying so hard but just not getting there. You become so inventive trying to find the reasons for your failure but because you are not attacking the root cause you will never solve the problem. The fact you haven’t the faintest idea why this happens continually is why you will never find a solution no matter how creative you are. The answers you are looking for are located in your brain but all the signposts are lost. In fact there isn’t even a map so you have to stumble around blindly until you somehow come across what you are looking for. There is a quicker way to locate those lost items but it requires you look deep within yourself to discover those items.

I find zoning out watching Netflix in foreign languages or YouTube videos is very helpful to this process. Watching an in-depth program on tv also helps. Anything visual that captures my attention allows whatever is there to bubble up to the surface.

Last dinner we were having dinner and we just start talking in Greek. My husband, myself and my father in law discuss the prawns were eating, how many potatoes we want, etc. While my father in law talks in sentences about how tasty these prawns are even though they are whole (there not deveined I believe is the technical term), my mother in law doesn’t say a word and barely answers how many prawns, asparagus, potatoes she wants. We don’t even talk about the wine which is unusual for us as it’s usually quite a big deal. I liked the fact that because the context was immediate I didn’t really need to translate because it was obvious what was being said. Practice really does make perfect even with impromptu jokes about a common occurrence (the taste of shell on prawns compared to shelled ones).

Best wishes

Angela

Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark

I bought this book in October 2018 and I have picked it up several times reading bits and pieces digesting the content. This is not a book you undertake lightly for though it is written well; it’s content is revolutionary as it’s pushing at the boundaries of what we currently understand about quantum physics. I still haven’t got more than a third of the way through it as it takes complete concentration and focus which I rarely have available to me. It’s only due to storm Ciara that today I have started it once more.

I have found though that I keep coming back to this topic. When I’m bored and don’t know what to draw; I draw a rainbow, the universe, a sunset or the night sky. I have taken more photos of sunsets around the world than I can count! I’m fascinated with astronomy as I’m always watching Brian Cox. There has to be something in this for though I have explored many, many avenues; This one remains relatively untouched because of the brain power it takes to comprehend it.

I also find that only when I have covered all of the bases and I’m in a really deep meditative like state do I start to appreciate the complexities that are inherent in physics. It usually starts with boredom as I’m unsure what to do next and ends up with some amazing revelations about my self, my place and the world around me. Tapping into the strength of our minds is where our creativity comes from and our best ideas whatever they may be. Walking is good here as espoused by many a scientist who had there breakthroughs then, having a bath like Archimedes with his famous Eureka statement or the more unusual like Einstein working as a patent clerk.

Whatever it is that you do, find some time for yourself as you will be much happier once you have discovered that latent content locked within the fortress that is your brain. You have everything that you need to progress in life already. You just have to find out how to use it to benefit humankind.

Michael Pollen – Cooked

He is a famous author and chef who has written several books on the history of food that are on Blinkist and I’m working my way through them. He also has a four part series on NetflixCooked after the title of his book that it follows. The episodes deal with the effects of Fire, Water, Air and Earth. It comes as no surprise that he has worked closely with Samin Nosrat on her Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat cookbook. He taught her how to write while she taught him how to cook.

In Fire he ventures around America looking for the secrets to bbq and grilled meats. He compares traditional methods to the ones used to industry. He goes in for the science and analyses the proteins present in meat with the transformation they undergo when being cooked – denaturalisation. He also indulges in some male bonding too while learning the secrets of southern cooking in addition to the history which is rooted in slave culture.

In Water he looks into the changes that have taken place in the American food industry since the 1950’s. He also tackles the rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes. I’m shocked to find that there is no longer an adult onset diabetes as type 2 used to be called. It’s now often found in children. This is directly linked to the fact we spend less time the kitchen and more time working. Even in India, one of the poorest countries in the world, you can’t live off one income and processed food is becoming the norm.

In Air he looks at the importance of bread to the daily diet in Morocco. He gets political about what happens when the price of bread rises too much; and how these conflicts cause shortages all over the world. Due mostly to over reliance on imports from bad harvests because of changing climatic conditions. He also gets scientific examining the role that gluten performs and why it’s so difficult to get a good gluten free loaf.

In Earth he examines the process of fermentation. Here he discovers that cacao beans are first fermented for a week before they are dried and then turned into chocolate etc. I didn’t know it was necessary to do this because the raw beans are so bitter as to be unpalatable. If you’ve ever eaten cooking chocolate you might know this taste. In contrast to chocolate, cheese is a another food that undergoes fermentation that we all know about. Here still there are more secrets to be discovered by looking into the science of the rind on cheeses. He also experiments by making his own beer to continue on from when he learnt to make bread.

I have found this series fascinating to watch to realise that there is a lot to learn from traditional methods of cooking that we can’t replicate in our modern high tech kitchens. The culture of disgust in relation to the French appreciation of stinky cheese is an amazing topic to have a discussion on. Our overuse of antibacterial sprays to clean with and antibiotics to cure to disease is causing a backlash in the health of our gut biome which is only just starting to be looked into seriously. I liked the anthropological look into ancient cultures and how they would pickle vegetables to get through the winter which is why vegans need to eat kimchi etc to remain healthy. Its a source of b vitamins and even vitamin c.

Best wishes

Angela

Nesting

This is a curious phenomenon that generally affects women. Folklore has it that if you suddenly start doing it your either pregnant or about to give birth. Now I’m going to set the record straight for what Nesting actually is – hormone related anxiety.

You can nest while not being pregnant as women commonly do this when they are missing their spouses or some other close family relation. My mother has always done it as she has always tided my clothes in the wardrobe to within an inch of their lives. She does this to cope with missing me, my brother and her only grandchild. It’s extraordinarily painful for her and it’s extraordinarily painful for me too. To this end I have tried to avoid this heartache. There is however only so much you can drink, go on holiday, stay at other people’s houses and generally avoid the issue. I nest too and I’ve never been pregnant. I have however started to employ another of her mechanisms which is to cook because that is not a thing I tend to often do.

Nesting is a very real desire to control that which you cannot control by cleaning, tidying, preparing and making sure everything is in order in your life and home.

To this end you can’t fix the problem because you didn’t create it. However, your natural state of being is amplified by your hormones. It makes you seem almost neurotic and paranoid. This is not a good state of mind to be in. Your maternal instincts are strong and there kicking in yet there is no one to protect. It’s another version of the fight or flight response but this one is uniquely feminine. It has its benefits because a babies immune system is immature at best plus your so tired from lack of sleep your grateful for having a stock of necessary items.

This is not useful though if there is no baby involved like with myself. I have been writing a lot recently but when that is done for the day, I obsessively shop to find the best outlets for my prospective house move. There are in fact no supermarkets in walking distance and it’s quite a trek by bus as they expect everyone in that area to drive a car. It’s primarily residential and it’s where the locals live instead of students or immigrants which is the rest of my city. So there is that.

The cooking is due to all the food I have collected trying to get outside exercise and the cleaning is due to several viewings of my house. It has to be showhome clean and tidy at all times. This is a big ask for me as it stops my creativity. Dressing a house constantly and being absent for viewings is no mean feat in the wind, rain and cold of an English winter.

I do not expect this situation to change anytime soon so I will continue to watch my shows and read until this particular storm has abated.

Best wishes

Angela

Can you forget your native language?

Can you lose your native language as an adult?

I’ve been fascinated by adults in Greece who can speak both Greek and English to native levels yet as they get older they stop being able to do both. This has perplexed me in the UK too with people who learnt languages fluently at a young age yet can no longer speak the language.

This isn’t just related to an average person though. If you look at Ricky Martin’s career he speaks with his native accent in Spanish and English but then he moved to the US and gets married to an American. His accent changes so drastically that he can’t even sing his own back catalogue properly anymore!

Luckily this change can be reversed as on his most recent song he is back to sounding how he used to when he was younger.

As the article above suggests it’s all to do with emotions. If you associate positive emotions with a language and a specific purpose then you are more likely to remember it. If however you try to use a language for another purpose like your native language for work purposes in an English speaking country your likely to fail. Too much mental control is required for this to occur.

Best wishes

Angela