Free Online Sanskrit Course

August 31, 2017


We came across the details above, and there is also a Facebook group here.   It will be interesting to see if people complain about the course book–people always seem to have objections to Sanskrit textbooks, as in the discussion here.


Les films français avec sous-titres français en ligne gratuit

July 16, 2017

Ensemble, c’est tout…

So Tanya from Vologda wanted to know about finding French films with subtitles online.  A short search revealed, with subtitles in French which appear to be for deaf French people, since they also describe music, sound effects and so on.

I found it was best to download the archive, together with 7-Zip to extract the files and VLC media player to cope with the subtitles (other approaches were less successful).

Anyway, we both applied ourselves to Ensemble, c’est tout, but Tanya confined herself to watching directly online, which led to a small picture and small sound–and also to slightly corrupt subtitles when I tried it (but she said hers were OK).

Anyway, the site itself is obviously Russian–some of the filepaths have Russian names and the file formats are Russian as well, although the blithe approach to copyright violation would have given the game away anyway…

I am unworthy of a Miele washing machine

June 14, 2017


I wanted a washing machine delivered on a Wednesday, when I am at home.

I rang up Miele on Saturday 3 June an arranged for one to be delivered on 14 June.

They sent me many texts saying it would be delivered between 1130 and 1330 on 14 June.

They sent me an email saying it would be delivered between 1130 and 1330 on 14 June.

On 14 June they rang me to arrange delivery. I said they were due to deliver between 1130 and 1330. They said they had not been able to find one or had entered two orders or something. Maybe I could have one by special courier if I waited in a couple of days.

I said it would have been better to let me know beforehand.  I cancelled the order.

Their washing machines may be perfectly adequate. It looks like I will never know now!

Joseph Henry Blackburne lived here

June 4, 2017


50 Sandrock Road

J. H. Blackburne dominated British chess during the second half of the 19th century, and at one point he was the world’s second most successful player.

He is perhaps best known for losing heavily to Wilhelm Steinitz and for taking it badly, but according to the biography by Tim Harding he was living in 9 Whitbread Road, Brockley at the time of the 1901 census, later moving to 45 Sandrock Road and then number 50 in the same road, where he died on 1 September 1924.


45 Sandrock Road

So number 45 has changed over the years more radically than number 50, but not as radically as the place in 9 Whitbread Road.


Presumed site of 9 Whitbread Road

Now then, it is known that Blackburne was bombed-out during a German raid in the First World War, but the dates are such that it’s unlikely the view above came into being that way.


J. H. Blackburne (1841-1924)

Now then Steinitz apparently lived in Shoreditch, which only adds to my suspicions that he was really Karl Marx on his day off…

How popular is Russia in the UK?

June 4, 2017


We are sometimes asked how popular Russia is among people in Britain.

In 2015, Chatham House reported results from surveys in 2012 and 2014 asking respondents which countries they felt especially favourable and unfavourable towards.   Above, we derive an overall favourability score from (favourable – unfacourable) , take the average of  this 2012 and 2014 and plot it against the change between the two dates.

We see that Russia is out on its own in terms of being unpopular and becoming more so, followed at a respectful distance by Israel.  This is presumably due to a series of notable events in this period: BP, Pussy Riot, Greenpeace, Ukraine, none of which were well received.

Interestingly enough, a BBC poll of about the same period of attitudes to different states in a sample of 22 countries showed Russia as among the least popular but without the same deterioration.

Stationary points of f(x)=x+√x

June 4, 2017

The curves in the pic are f(x) and f'(x).

Question: The function is f(x)=x+√x. Can you find its min or max value? If you calculate f'(x) and put it to 0, you get x=1/4. But draw the curve and there is no such max/min there.

One suggestion:   Clearly f'(x) has two asymptotes at x=0 and y=1 and so can never be 0 for any real value of x. But why does differentiating lead to the result x=1/4? I agree that f(x) = x-√x has a clear minimum there, but it’s a different function. My answer was that since there’s an infinity at x=0 f'(x) is undefined, but I’m not convinced that’s the answer.

OK, so √x is defined as the positive value of x^(1/2).

Let’s see if we can differentiate it:

x = √x√x  where x, √x >= 0.

D(x)  = 1 = 2√x*D(x) => D(x) = 1/(2√x)

So, f'(x) = 1 + 1/(2√x)

if f'(x) =0, then √x = -1/2.  But √x is >= 0 by definition, so there is no solution.

Let’s try to be a little more systematic while staying within the bounds of high school maths.

We consider the function  g(x,c) = x + x^(1/2)

where x^(1/2) = (√x)*(-1)^c

and we choose c to be either 0 or 1.

So g'(x) = 1 + (1/2√x)*(-1)^c

Setting g'(x) = 0 =>

√x = (-1/2)*(-1)^c

But since  √x is positive, c must be 1 rather than 0 for this to have a solution.

So by accepting a solution here we force the original function to be g(x) = x – √x.


Voices from Chernobyl, Brockley Jack 2 May

May 3, 2017



Picture from Tenere Arte Facebook page

This adaptation of the book by Svetlana Alexievich lasted 60 minutes straight through without an interval and contained a great deal of material in that time. It was presented in the devised theatre style (think Belarus Free Theatre) in both English and Russian–the Russian was normally translated by an other actor or back-projected, but the normal Russian chaos was just repeated.

It benefited from a very strong cast of both English- and Russian-speaking actors, and a previous outing at the Cockpit meant that everyone knew their lines (well, I can think of one minor exception).  The final scene delivered by Kim Christie as the newlywed wife of a firefighter dying from the effects of radiation was extremely affecting and marked by a wonderful sense of restraint…


the thing about the lies she had to think up to see her husband (two children already, certainly not pregnant) really went by very quickly if you didn’t know the source text and it’s important because it reflects the relation of the individual and the State which found its final expression in Chernobyl.  I think the devised theatre kind of thing tends to to become a documentary rather than a drama, and we could have done with seeing more of fewer characters.  I think that the points that Alexievich was trying to make about the uniqueness of the Soviet experiment, Chernobyl as a rent in the fabric of reality and even as an attack on Belarus rather went missing.

What could you do with them in 60 minutes?  Well start off with what you want to say and shape your narratives to achieve that, which I think is what Alexievich did.

Certainly well worth seeing and thinking about!

So what is the Polis Method?

April 21, 2017


I did inquire of the Polis Institute what the Polis Method was, and they kindly sent me a link to Christophe Rico’s page on  There is what seems to be a full account here and you can enjoy a lesson on YouTube here.  I especially enjoyed the comments left under the video, redolent as they are of stale pedantry and hatred of the human race…but I’m not saying that they’re wrong, at least about the pronunciation…

Church Slavonic and Septuagint Greek versions of Genesis 2:7

April 18, 2017


A solid enough display of Biblical scholarship


Here is a paragraph in progress regarding versions of Genesis 2:7. What bothers me is note 2. Is it the case that the Church Slavonic is ultimately based on the Septuagint rather than on some Hebrew original? I discovered that the current Synodal Russian translation is actually utilizing Gospod’ in 2:7, unlike the Church Slavonic edition I have. Any assistance on this would be much appreciated.

Biblical scholar Ronald A. Simkins writes of Genesis 2:7: “… YHWH’s forming of the human creature (the male ’ādām) from the dirt of the arable land (the female ’ădāmāh) serves as a metaphor for humankind’s birth out of the earth.”[1] Again, the earth gives birth, but not without God. Here it is worth noting that, like the grammatically feminine Hebrew word for “earth” (’ădāmāh), the equivalent words in the Septuagint Greek (gē), Vulgate Latin (terra), and Church Slavonic (zjemlja) – are also grammatically feminine. It is worth noting as well that the grammatically masculine Yahweh (YHWH) is matched by its grammatically masculine Greek (kurios), Latin (Dominus), and Slavonic (Gospodь) equivalents.[2]

[1] Simkins 2014, 48 (cf. also Simkins 1998, 39-46).

[2] However, these equivalents do not turn up until the next verse (8) in the Septuagint Greek and Church Slavonic texts.


It is certainly the case that the Church Slavonic text comes from the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew text.

The standard Hebrew text in the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia gives the equivalent of ‘the LORD God’ (YHWH elohim, if you like) at both 2:7 and 2:8–the first occurrence that I can see of this pairing is at 2:4, before that it’s elohim (God). LXX has ho theos (God) in 2:4 and 2:7, then kurios ho theos (the Lord God) in 2:8.

I think that Jewish tradition has often tried to distinguish YHWH elohim on the grounds that one is God in the aspect of justice and the other in the aspect of mercy, but I’m not aware of anything being made of grammatical distinctions. Alternatively elohim may be interpreted as the creator and YHWH as the god of the covenant in relationship to Israel. ‘Elohim’ is notoriously plural in form but governs a masculine singular verb–to over-simplify, grammatical number and gender didn’t have the definitive character in Biblical Hebrew that they do in (say) modern Russian.

Another issue here is that LXX in some cases appears to be based on a more ancient (Hebrew) text than the standard Masoretic text we have, though BHS doesn’t give any textual variants at 2:7.

Ernest Dowson died here

April 17, 2017


159 Sangley Road

According to Arthur Symons’s memoir of Ernest Dowson:

[he] died at 26 Sandhurst Gardens, Catford, S.E on Friday morning, February 23, 1900….[he] was found one day in a Bodega with only a few shillings in his pocket, and so weak as to be hardly able to walk, by a friend, himself in some difficulties, who immediately took him back to the bricklayer’s cottage in a muddy outskirt of Catford, where he was himself living…

Meanwhile the Lewisham Council website states:

Died in the house of a friend at 26 Sandhurst Gardens (now 159 Sangley Road),

and we presume they ought to be a reliable source for addresses in Catford.

The house above looks as though it was built around 1900, so the bricklayer may have been living there while working on other houses nearby (which is why it was muddy–largely bare ground or a building site rather than houses) and letting out rooms.