Saturday, 17 November 2018

First frost, 2018

What does this tell you: first frost 2007, first frost 2011 were both a whole month earlier, on 16 October. Last night the temperature fell to -3C. Monday's installation of the alarm system in Jakubowizna was not completed on account of a poor mobile phone signal, so Pan Darek had to pop over again with an external antenna to finish the job. And I was told that the sofa bed (scratched to pieces by cats) has been refurbished and can be delivered to the działka. So a change of plan was required for today, and a lovely morning it was too.

Cloudless sky all day long, temperatures shooting up to +5C by the afternoon.

A long walk was Most certainly in order... down past Chynów station towards Krężel... Another photo in the style of Eric Ravilious...

By half past three the sun was low in the sky and its was quickly getting cooler - though not back down to zero this time. Overnight temperatures will not dip deeply into negative territory.

Out of the woods and into the open, the sun touching the horizon.

Earlier I took some snaps of the track modernisation work around Chynów - here's that ST43 diesel loco used to haul wagons carrying new rails. Built in Romania by Electroputere, these engines are nicknamed 'Rumun' by Polish train spotters. PKP ordered 422 of them (from 1965 to 1978).

Below: a rake of empty rail-carrying wagons south of Chynów station. The new rails can be seen between the existing tracks of the 'down' line, currently in use in both directions.

In theory, you can get to Jakubowizna by bus, but the bus stop (no timetable displayed) does not look encouraging.

Finally, my recovered sofa bed, recovered in both meanings of the word. Scratched to pieces by the cats, the old upholstery was so badly wrecked that it looked fit for the skip. However, the folding mechanism is still first rate, so following the precepts of the Buyerachy of Needs, rather than buy a new piece of furniture, I had this one reupholstered. The work, by Werson of Nowa Iwiczna, was stunningly brilliant - better than I imagined. Werson has also made furniture for the president's palace and restores upholstery in classic cars. I highly recommend.

This time three years ago:
Cameron, Paris, ISIS, PiS and Brexit

This time five years ago:

This time six years ago:
Foggy days and Warsaw's airports

This time eight years ago:
Local elections - the lure of ultra-localism 

Thursday, 15 November 2018

To Tychy

To most Poles, Tychy (20km/12 miles south of Katowice) is best known for brewing Tyskie beer and for the production of the new Fiat 500. A large and important part of the Silesian agglomeration (130,000 population - the size of Norwich), Tychy is somewhat subsumed in the larger whole - Poland's largest conurbation of 2.7 million people. The city is also of note for its Stalinist workers' district, built in the Socialist Realist style in 1951-56. Only Nowa Huta, the steel-mill suburb of Kraków, can boast a more expansive area of Socialist Realist housing. Below: stretched out over 18 hectares, located east of Tychy station, this is an architectural gem - Osiedle A ('estate A') of Nowe Tychy. Home to 6,100 people, it was intended as a model workers' community. No pub.

Look at this! An iconic image of the Stalinist era. Should it be painted over, or left for posterity? Where have I seen this before - on Pl. Konstytucji in Warsaw? Or on the cover of the 1949 Worker's Diary?
Below: Socialist Realism was neo-classical in form; street layouts inspired by Ancient Rome

Unofficial street art. Would Stalin and his henchmen have sought to track down and punish the author(s) of this criticism of the aesthetic conditions of this workers' paradise? What agent of Imperialist England (note the spelling: not 'color' as a CIA saboteur would have written) stands behind this attempt to subvert the Polish People's Republic? This photo is unaltered in Photoshop.

Left: literal translation - 'Prohibition of Game with Ball'.

Below: Tychy New Town (Nowe Miasto) is close to Tychy's main railway station. Two passenger trains from the Silesian regional railway operator SKR pass one another, while a PKP Cargo Siemens Vectron engine runs light between the platforms.

Below: what's this? A fire station? A film set? Security towers at a sensitive border crossing?

Left. No. This is a Catholic church. The parish church of St Francis of Assisi and St Clare. It looks like a defensive bastion - a fortified emplacement, a science-fiction structure - if the former, who is it protecting the parishioners against? And if the latter - I'd bet that it is successful in attracting those with an interest in fantasy fiction. One way or another, it's a church reflecting these times. (See it on Google Maps Street View 3D - impressive!)

Below: Tychy is one of three Polish cities that currently still have a trolleybus network - the others being Lublin and Gdynia. While the trolleybuses constitute the minority of the Tychy bus fleet, the bulk of the non-electrified buses are powered by compressed natural gas.

For a heavily industrialised town, having electric powered buses cuts back a bit on air pollution. The bulk of the non-trolleybus fleet is powered by compressed natural gas. Which also helps.

Below: but what's this? Back at the Tychy station, watching the imminent arrival of the InterCity train from Białystok to Bielsko-Biała... just look at the smoke pouring out of the signal box! You'd think that PKP could easily heat such buildings from the electricity in its overhead power lines - but no - filthy coal is being burnt.

This time three years ago:
Face to face with the UK retailing scene

This time four years ago:
Bricktorian Birmingham

This time six years ago:
Welcome to Lemmingrad

This time eight years ago:
Dream highway

This time ten years ago:
The Days are Marching

This time 11 years ago:
First snow, 2007

Monday, 12 November 2018

Magic day in and around Jakubowizna

A belatedly announced public holiday, the sun's shining, so I head to the działka, and from there, a long circular walk around the fields.

Plenty of atavistic memories come flooding back during this walk.

Below: the road from Nowe Winiary to Gaj Żelechowski

Below: the same road, but looking the other way (north)

Below: yes - I've been here before - in 1838? Or was it earlier still?

Below: old wooden house, in the village of Widok (lit. 'view') So there - widok Widoku.

A most unhappy sight - unpicked apples. It was obvious from the spring that this would be a bumpe year for fruit. The larger, better invested commercial orchards carried on with the harvest - their owners have loans to pay off, so not picking the fruit is not an option. The old, family-run orchards, mortgages paid off, have no great financial obligations. It's just not worth picking these apples.

And so, they fall off the tree, and lie on the ground, where they will rot. This orchard is commercial, behind a fence, so one cannot go in an scrump. A sad waste of food - these apples are outstanding in terms of taste, texture and balance between acidity and sweetness. The best apples I've ever eaten.

Below: post box (!) by Chynów station. Can't remember the last time I posted a letter!

Left: Chynów station; between the tracks, lengths of new rail waiting for new the track bed. In the distance, a stationary works loco. This track is now only used so that passenger trains can pass one another here; further ahead (and indeed behind), the track is being lifted ahead of its modernisation.

Despite the public holiday, there was a good service and the train back to Jeziorki was quite full already by the time it got to Chynów; by Jeziorki it was standing room only.

A beautiful day and a fitting end to an extended holiday weekend.

This time last year:

This time three years ago:
With my father and brother in Derbyshire

This time six years ago:
In praise of Warsaw's trams

This time eight years ago:
Setting sun in the mountains

This time nine years ago:
That learning moment

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Thoughts on the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence

I didn't feel any need to celebrate this occasion on any special way. I do not feel the need to demonstrate my patriotism in any way (other than hanging a Polish flag outside our house). The presence of neo-Nazis at the city-centre commemorations somewhat takes away the sense of pride in being Polish on this day; I didn't venture into town.

Nor do I consider this day to be particularly historic. This is the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence - not the centenary of Polish independence. And the many government cock-ups in organising the event, not least the hooha about tomorrow's public holiday, have not helped swing my mood towards backing the official celebrations.

A brief reminder; after 123 years of being partitioned by its neighbours, Poland reemerged on the map of Europe on 11 November 1918. It remained there for twenty years, ten months and six days. Then Poland disappeared again - partitioned for the fourth time, this time by Hitler and Stalin. One brutal murderous dictator was replaced by another after five years of hell; Stalin's henchmen and their successors kept Poland a vassal state, utterly beholden to the Soviet Union, until 1989.

Communist Poland was called the Polish People's Republic - NOT Poland. An adjective describing the people whose 'republic' it 'was'. A one-party state, that party steered from Moscow, the Polish People's Republic had no say on macroeconomic policy (only a centrally-planned Marxist economy was permitted for most of its history) nor on foreign policy (its allies and enemies were chosen by Moscow). The Polish People's Republic officially ended on 29 December 1989, fifty years, three months and twenty nine days after Hitler, aided by Stalin, invaded Poland.

So today, an independent Poland has been around since for less than fifty years. Worth also remembering that Poland had been an independent kingdom for over eight centuries, which puts a bit of perspective on today's celebrations. Also worth bearing in mind that the far right Nationalist Movement won 1.2% of the vote in last month's local elections.

My wishes for Poland's future - above all, security. The biggest threat is from Russia, whose soldiers are currently shelling and machine-gunning Ukrainian positions in the Donbass. Security within a strong NATO, and a strong, reforming EU that can get its act together on innovation and competitiveness and takes more heed of the concerns of the citizens of its member states.

Next - Poland needs to tackle its hidebound university professors - in my eyes, the biggest single obstacle to genuine Polish innovation. Although Poland's economy is moving up the value-added ladder, with simple contact centres giving way to knowledge-based outsourcing and global tech hubs, and with simple metal-bashing giving way to advanced manufacturing in the aerospace and automotive supply chains, Poland is still using technologies devised elsewhere to do things for other countries at a lower cost than they could themselves.

Poles are clever people, hard-working people. It's just that the brightest and the best are developing the fruits of their innovative thinking in universities in the US, UK, Germany or Australia - but not at home. Here, geriatric professors still cling on to their tenures, blocking the promotions of much younger lecturers and researchers who can still make a difference. The habilitowanie process at Polish universities is a time-waster, and doing habilitacje in Polish rather than in the global language of research means that citations in foreign journals are few and far between. The very best Polish universities language around the 300 mark in the global Top 500 rankings.

So - all the very best to my fatherland - I'm proud to be Polish, I'm proud of Polish economic and scientific successes, I feel very happy living in a dynamic country which has transformed itself in leaps and bounds since I moved here over 21 years ago. The chart below sums Poland's progress.

Great to be here. Let's see the Polish government applying itself to reform of the universities with the same zeal (misplaced, in my view) that it has shown in shaking up the law courts.

This time last year:
Globalisation in retreat

This time five years ago:
Leeds, a city made uglier by crooked developers

This time six years ag0:
Węzeł Lotnisko (now Węzeł W-wa Południe) - works continue

This time 11 years ago:
Its Independence Day

Friday, 9 November 2018

Foggy days, November

To Chynów, of a foggy day. Trains running on time. On the 'up' platform, the 15:14 from Chynów to Rembertów. When trains are scheduled to pass at Chynów, because of the single-line working on either side of the station, the 'up' train has to wait several minutes for the 'down' train to arrive.

And here they are, passing, taken from the other end of the platform.

Chynów station in the fog. Note the Polish flag hung for tomorrow's 100th centenary of Poland regaining its independence.

House on my street in Jakubowizna, fields enveloped in mist.

Two photos that highlight the magic that digital photography delivers. Below: a raw, unaltered image of the Radom line crossing the Łuków-Skierniewice line. Straight out of the camera.

Below: the same image, but with just one parameter changed in Adobe Photoshop - setting the 'Dehaze' slider to 100%

Bonus shot - the Euro Night service from Paris Est to Moscow Beloruskaya waiting at W-wa Wschodnia for a change of locomotive and for coaches from Nice Ville to be attached. Total journey time from Paris to Moscow - 36 hours. From Nice to Moscow (via Monte Carlo, San Remo, Milan, Innsbruck, Vienna, Zell am See, Vienna, Katowice and Warsaw) - it's 45 hours. The train is sleeper-only carriages, with a restaurant car.

This time last year:
Trump, Brexit and the Missing Middle

This time seven years ago:
Bad news for Jeziorki's rat runners

This time eight years ago:
Death on the tracks

This time nine years ago:
From Łady to Falenty

Monday, 5 November 2018

You can always go Downtown

Out of the Metro and into the crushed velvet dusk in my City of Dreams; a clear sky as the sun went down. Below: the Palace of Culture from the edge of the Patelnia.

Below: one of two above-ground structures belonging to W-wa Śródmieście (suburban) station, the Marriott hotel behind it.

And moving on, to the right in the distance, W-wa Centralna (inter-city) station. To the right of the Marriott, the Oxford Tower, to the left, the very 1990s Orco Tower. Before too long, all three will be dwarfed by Varso tower, which will appear behind the Shentroo' Wailway Shtation (as ZTM's English-language voiceover man helpfully pronounces it).

Below: crossing Emilii Plater to get to Złoty Tarasy - the terraces of gold - shopping mall.

"The lights are much brighter there/You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares/So go downtown, where all the lights are bright/ Downtown, waiting for you tonight"
[Lyrics: Tony Hatch]

This time two years ago:
Opinions vs facts - our media today

This time three years ago:
Judging PO's eight years in power

This time four years ago
Cloudless, 18C - the beauty of Polish autumn

This time five years ago: 
Call 19115: Warsaw Fix-my-Street

This time seven years ago:
Vapour trails at sunset

This time eight years ago:
Autumnal blues

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Insight in the search for consciousness

"Insight equals intelligence plus consciousness." An insight I had this morning over coffee.

Learning facts at school - whatever subject - physics, geography, history, maths, languages - gives a young mind a structure, a framework of memorised facts which must then be fleshed out by insight. Now, insight comes later; it comes from thinking, reading, listening, discussing, experiencing. It comes from observation and curiosity, but does not necessarily come immediately from them. 'Eureka moments' come to us throughout our lives, whether we're studying something or not; these moments - big and small - add up to the sum of what we know - and who we are.

From Wiktionary:

Noun insight (countable and uncountable, plural insights)
  • A sight or view of the interior of anything; a deep inspection or view; introspection; frequently followed by the preposition 'into'. 
  • Power of acute observation and deduction
  • Intuitive apprehension of the inner nature of a thing or things; intuition.
  • Synonyms: penetration, discernment, perception
  • (psychiatry) An individual's awareness of the nature and severity of his or her mental illness
  • (marketing) Knowledge (usually derived from consumer understanding) that a company applies in order to make a product or brand perform better and be more appealing to customers
  • (artificial intelligence) An extended understanding of a subject resulting from identification of relationships and behaviours within a model, context, or scenario.
Notice that artificial intelligence (AI) has made an appearance. I'd like to focus for a while on AI in the context of 'singularity' - that theoretical moment at which computers come to surpass the human brain in terms of operations per second, at which runaway learning takes off at a unstoppable pace.

There is a profound philosophical divide between AI singularity proponents (who say that computers can develop consciousness, which would emerge from the complexity) and those who believe that computers (being artificial constructs) will never acquire consciousness.

You and I know what the word 'consciousness' means. If you didn't, you wouldn't be reading these words with understanding. Now - can an inanimate object ever acquire consciousness, awareness of its own subjective experience? Qualia (plural of quale) are the building-blocks of consciousness. Your experience of a stubble field on a hot, still August day, flies buzzing; your experience of waiting at a bus stop, anxious that you'll not make an important meeting; your experience of holding a small, scared animal in your hands - is what makes you you. And the cumulative memories of these experiences, these qualia memories, contribute to your sense of self.

Example: in January, recovering from a heavy dose of flu, I wrote a short story [Pt 1 here]. Though the events were purely fictional and set in a place I have never visited, the story lives with me in my mind, and several times since I have had flashbacks to this story. Writing it, I experienced it as intensively as though I was there. This 'flashback to fiction' is a variation of everyday flashbacks. I'm in the bathroom, washing my teeth. Sudden flashback to the mid-1970s, a family visit to Hatfield House, gazing up at the Jacobean chimney stacks. Later than day, I'm by the computer listening to David Bowie singing Lady Stardust. Flashback to the smell of Vim and scouring smoke-blackened cooking utensils on scout camp, early 1970s. But though these flashback experiences are an everyday occurrence, these two above-mentioned flashbacks were new, in that I'd never re-experienced the qualia since the moment I first had them.

Was Lady Stardust going through my mind as I squatted under an army-surplus marquee, removing remains of food burnt onto the bottom of the large cooking pan? The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars came out in February 1972; by the time of the scout camp that summer, the album had been played to death (to the extent that I know every word of every song on it to this day). So it's entirely possible that my flashback yesterday was prompted by sound.

Could a computer - an artificial construct - ever achieve that? Could an artificial intelligence recover from deep within its own neural network a memory of an experience of a feeling, like what it felt like when a new hard drive was plugged in, or an overheating motherboard, or the everyday emotions associated with being booted up or powered down? Could a computer be beset by thoughts of its ageing or its mortality? Could a computer be troubled by an inane tune going round its logic-board?

Personally, I doubt it. The insights we gather about the world about us, based on our learning and our observation, are critical to what it is to be human. Below us are higher-order creatures - other mammalian species, birds or cephalopods, which also exhibit signs of well-developed consciousness.

I would wager than they too experience qualia and memories of qualia; I would expect them to have moments of insight that contribute to the way they intuitively understand the environment around them - something more than instinct.

More insights into learning here.

This time last year:
Loving Vincent - review

This time five years ago:
UFO credibility test

This time six years ago:
Junction ready for road to unbuilt sports centre

This time seven years ago:
Park nad Książecem - Vistula escarpment, beautiful autumn

This time ten years ago:
Obama wins US presidential election

Friday, 2 November 2018

Walks in the early-November sun

A massive 19C in today's strong sunlight - this is 2 November, not 2 October!

Below: the park in Jeziorki, many people making the most of the bridge-day between a public holiday and the weekend.

Warm wind from the south means that planes taking ofp from Okęcie are doing so into the wind. Below: a Polish Air Force CASA C-295 transport.

Below: new development of houses close to the railway line, just south of Warsaw's border, Nowa Wola/Zgorzała. Now all the new home-owners need is an asphalt road to get them out of here.

Below: some interesting trains passed through... A Bombardier TRAXX in ITL livery hauling containerised cisterns and containers approaches the 'down' platform at W-wa Jeziorki... ITL has but two such locos, and they are rarely seen on Polish rails.

Below: ...and coming the other way, an EU07 pulls a short rake of two passenger coaches forming the TLK Połoniny service from Przemysł to Warsaw via Jarosław, Sandomierz and Radom (and a whole lot more places along the way) through W-wa Jeziorki.

Below: the two trains pass each other

Below: a more usual sight - a laden coal train headed by an ET22 loco on its way from the coal fields to the marshalling yard at Okęcie, from where it will be diesel-hauled down to Siekierki on the non-electrified line (the left of the frame here).

Below: the viaduct taking ul. Karczunkowska over the railway line - no work on 1 November, but back at it today. Ready by this time next year?

Below: All Saints, memento mori - in particular here a local pedestrian hit by a car, ul. Karczunkowska. Pavements save lives.

The weather is due to break, ten degrees colder and rain. Glad I made the most of both days!

This time three years ago:
Foggy evening, London

This time four year:
Kraków - Europe's top short-break destination 

This time six years ago:
Rzeczpospolita publishes infamous 'trotyl' Smolensk story

This time seven years ago:
Wilanowska - south Warsaw transport hub

This time nine years ago:
Powiśle on a cold, clear autumn morning

This time ten years ago:
Okęcie "to remain Warsaw's only airport"

This time 11 years ago:
Searching for autumnal perfection