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Teaching English in Budapest

Posted by – June 22, 2011

This is a ‘journal’ post that’s actually on topic, for once.

When I first came to Budapest, after two years of working, studying and stressing, I felt totally exhausted. The weather was a shock to the system, as was suddenly cutting down my ridiculous coffee habit. But now I’m perking up a bit, and I’ve been exploring ways to make money. I have another website where I posted a bunch of articles on computer programming before leaving Holland. Recently I updated it to put an advert for online computer programming lessons on the front page.

At first I was going to charge 25 UK pounds per lesson. I splashed out on a very expensive (208 UK pounds!) one-day advert in the London Evening Standard and Metro, two free newspapers with a massive circulation. But from my ad I only got one response, and I haven’t heard back from that guy. To be honest it was a relief. I don’t know why, but the whole idea sort of felt wrong. But now I’ve dropped the price to 15 UK pounds or 17 euros per hour, and I feel a lot better about it. Maybe somehow it bothered me that I was charging 25 pounds per lesson when I’d never actually taught a lesson online before. Or maybe I just feel more positive today, I don’t know.

It’s interesting to compare the readership of that site with this site. I started this site several months before my other site. This site has no SEO on it; my other site strictly provides useful information, built around key phrases that people are searching for. This site now gets 40-50 visitors a day, but most of them are automated spam robots to judge by the endless spammy comments. My other site now gets often 100 visitors a day, and very little spam. Hopefully some of them will eventually sign up to my online computer programming lessons.

Fly Posting for Beginners

My other idea on how to make money here is to teach English lessons. I think this is something I’d really enjoy, since I have lots of ideas about how to teach English, some of them derived from my experience of attending a language school in Italy where only Italian was spoken, and some of them deriving from my interest in technology. Also it’s nicer to teach in person than online, I think. I’ve been practising on my local Hungarian friend, and her English is coming along nicely ….

Initially I was put off by the fact that the going rate of English lessons in Hungary seems to be a maximum of 3000 forint per hour, or about 11 euros. I couldn’t see how I could pay the rent on so little. But now I think I was being too pessimistic. I’ve discovered that you can rent perfectly nice flats here for less than 200 euros per month; flats that probably don’t suffer from the horrendous traffic noise problem that mine suffers from. So I intend to move somewhere cheaper in a few months when my six-month lease expires.

I’ve been sellotaping adverts with tear-off contact details up around town; my goal is to stick up five a day. The free Inkscape program is perfect for creating this kind of thing. I feel a bit dodgy about this. I keep expecting a policeman to clap his hand on my shoulder and ask me what I think I’m doing, littering the lamp-posts in this manner. But then people tell me that “this is Hungary”, by which I understand that there are comparatively few rules here. I only stick adverts on lamp-posts and noticeboards that already have lots of other adverts stuck to them, and there’s no shortage of those. Walking around Buda or Pest, you’ll pass more than you can count. I’m aiming for quality rather than quantity, sticking up my five a day in the most conspicuous places I can find. My advert’s in English, but I think that’s OK; lots of people here speak some English but would like to speak a lot more, so they can more easily get a job, get a better job, or do business with English-speakers.

"You may walk on the grass"

Whether anything will come of my quasi-legal fly posting, or my discount online computer programming lessons, I don’t know. Watch this space!

Stomach Ulcers: Do Natural Remedies Work?

Posted by – June 21, 2011

Fascinating Experiments proudly presents …. Squiffy’s guide to stomach ulcers, stomach infections and their treatment.

Before we start, let me tell you how I got into this strange subject in the first place. To cut a long story short, a while ago I took to drinking vast amounts of coffee for reasons that are best left unexplored. Eventually I developed some kind of stomach infection. Lots of my acquaintances also had stomach infections around the same time. I saw a doctor who assured me it wasn’t serious and prescribed antacids, but they didn’t help much ….

The up-side of this is that I gathered the information that I now present to you here. The murky and confusing world of stomach ulcers and infections is a surprisingly interesting one with a rather interesting history, even if you don’t have a stomach ulcer.

As you might imagine, given that stomach problems are just about the commonest reason for people going to see a doctor, there is a thriving alternative health industry that aims to sell people all kinds of herbs and potions for their stomach complaints. But do they actually work? Here, Fascinating Experiments takes a look at some of these alleged cures and explores the science (or lack thereof) behind them.

A quick disclaimer is in order: I am not a doctor and this page should not be taken to constitute medical advice. If you have a stomach problem, please see a doctor. If your doctor can’t help you but he or she is sure there’s nothing too badly wrong with you, welcome to the whacky world of alternative stomach health treatments.

Please also note that we’re going to be talking here about a fairly specific problem, as discussed in the following paragraphs. To your chagrin or possibly relief, this page does not deal with diarrhoea, intestinal problems or anything that occurs below the stomach.

A Brief History of Stomach Ulcers

A stomach ulcer is much like a mouth ulcer, except you find it – no prizes for guessing this – in the stomach. Or in the duodenum, which is the part of the intestine that the stomach empties into. Duodenal and gastric (stomach) ulcers are known collectively as peptic ulcers. Unfortunately peptic ulcers are rather more serious than mouth ulcers, due to the fact that they are exposed to stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Some people say that a stomach ulcer will be worse after eating (when the stomach pumps in acid to digest food), while a duodenal ulcer will be worse when the stomach is empty. Whether this is actually true or not is however somewhat unclear.

It used to be thought that stomach ulcers were caused by stress and bad diet. If you’re old enough, or watch enough old TV, maybe you can recall TV series from the 70s or 80s in which a hard-working whisky-swigging man frequently gripped his stomach and complained about the ulcer that his stressful work had given him. Probably the same guy would have a drinks cabinet in his office and would automatically offer a shot of scotch to anyone who stopped by, before tucking into a cigarette. Interesting time, the 70s. And we haven’t even touched on the green-and-brown decor that prevailed throughout.

In 1982, two Australian doctors published a paper in which they claimed that stomach ulcers were in fact caused by a nasty little bacterium, Helicobacter pylori. It had long been observed that this bacteria colonised stomach ulcers, but it was thought that the colonisation was secondary to the development of the ulcer. After all, the stomach contains hydrochloric acid capable of dissolving steel. How could any bacteria possibly survive such harsh conditions for long enough to cause a stomach ulcer? The paper wasn’t well received. Undeterred, Marshall drunk a culture of Helicobacter and promptly developed an ulcer, which he cured using antibiotics. Pretty impressive. Nevertheless, medical science as practised on you and me tended to rather ignore these findings well into the 90s.

Now it is considered well-established that 90% of stomach ulcers are caused by Helicobacter. The other 10% are largely caused by drugs that erode the lining of the stomach, such as aspirin. The stomach is covered in a wall of mucus that protects it from the deadly acid that it uses to digest food. The cunning little Helicobacter drills into this mucus and produces neutralising ammonia to protect itself. Crafty! We now know, in fact, that other bacteria too can infect the stomach, but Helicobacter is one of the most common. Actually, most people who are infected with Helicobacter don’t develop an ulcer and are unaware of the infection. The infection rate in Western countries apparently pretty much matches age; that is, at age 20, 20% of people are infected, at age 40, 40%, and so on. Presumably if you live to be 101, the laws of physics break down ….

If you haven’t got an ulcer (and if you have you may not even know about it — although if you’ve got hideous gnawing pain in your stomach coupled with terrible bloating, that could be a bit of a giveaway), should you worry about Helicobacter? Hard to say. Since Helicobacter doesn’t cause stomach ulcers in most people, it would seem that other factors are at work; possibly stress and bad diet being among them. High salt intake (irritating the stomach lining), alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are all risk factors, which brings to mind the stressed hard-drinking 70s TV series guy mentioned above. You may well have a Helicobacter infection and suffer not a stomach ulcer, but other stomach infection symptoms — pain, nausea, etc. Or you may have no symptoms at all.

Over time, Helicobacter can weaken and thin the stomach lining. It can also, most worryingly, dramatically increase your chances of eventually dying of stomach cancer, and stomach cancer is already a very common form of cancer. This is possibly the most worrying thing about Helicobacter. On the other hand, it appears to decrease your risk of esophageal cancer, if that’s any consolation. Maybe this is due to the ammonia it produces neutralizing stomach acid.

Humankind has clearly lived with Helicobacter for a very, very long time. Our stomachs have sort of come to expect it. Without it, they may even feel a little lost. Maybe your immune system relishes having some such thing to work on.

On the negative side, stomach ulcers appear to be associated with Parkinson’s Disease (they produce toxins which seem to destroy cells in the brain) and heart disease.

OK, the positives are looking vague and intangible, while the negatives are pretty damn negative. But what can you do to get rid of Helicobacter, or at least suppress it? That would seem to be a very apposite question, given that being infected with it can really screw you up in ways that you may not even have considered before reading this article.

For God’s Sake Go and See a Doctor

If you actually have anything more than mild stomach problems, please go and see a doctor. Antibiotics, coupled with antacids, can actually eradicate Helicobacter in most cases (at least two thirds). That’s right, eradicate. You can be completely rid of the thing. However, antibiotics carry their own risks, so doctors won’t usually prescribe them unless it looks to be pretty clear that you’ve got a stomach ulcer and not, say, acid reflux from eating too much late at night, or gastritis from boozing too much (possibly while smoking) or some kind of general irritation of the stomach lining due to drinking twenty cups of coffee a day or whatever.

That leaves a large number of people who may suffer periodically with mild-to-annoying stomach problems, which they may suspect are caused by Helicobacter, but who are not in line to be given antibiotics. Maybe you sometimes suffer hyperacidity, mild nausea or stomach ache. Maybe your grandomother died of stomach cancer and you’ve decided you’d rather not go the same way, but would prefer to take your chances with, say, a heart attack when you get ready to pop your clogs.

Or maybe, more worryingly, you’ve already take antiobiotics, you’re seeing a doctor regularly because you have stomach ulcer-type symptoms, your doctor tells you he can’t find anything seriously wrong and can’t help you any further ….

In short, what can you do to eradicate or suppress a stomach infection and hopefully decrease your chances of it developing into something more serious? Now you’re into the territory of “alternative health”, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw all reason out of the window, become a hippy and take to wearing sandals at all times. Far from it. Science still has a lot to tell you.

Stomach Ulcer, Gastritis and Heartburn – Good Things and Bad Things

The remedies we’ll consider here can be lumped into two categories; remedies aimed at alleviating symptoms and remedies aimed at curing the underlying condition by somehow eradicating or suppressing stomach bacteria. These two categories aren’t completely separate, because treating the symptoms (excessive stomach acid leading to burning sensations, for instance) may allow the stomach to heal and throw off any infection.

Let’s also take a look at some things that tend to make stomach infections worse or to cause them in the first place.

Things That You Might Want to Avoid

Alcohol: There have always been people around who insist that alcohol is ‘good for you’. I’ve got news for you: it isn’t. It never has been. In recent years a lot of retrospective studies have been done on groups of people, to try to determine how the death rate from various diseases compares to the amount the group drinks. The results of these studies are horribly difficult to interpret. Initially it seemed as though teetotalers were far more likely to die of various causes than drinkers. Then it was realised that teetotalers as a group includes people who don’t drink because they are recovering alcoholics or because they can’t afford to drink, or because their health isn’t strong enough to withstand alcohol. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to reliably account for these kinds of statistical nuisances. Alcohol in moderate amounts may reduce the risk of a heart attack in people with certain types of heart problems — or it may not, depending on how you dice and slice the statistics.

One thing can definitely be said: alcohol is bad for the lining of the stomach and will increase your risk of a stomach ulcer or chronic stomach infection of the type that can lead to stomach cancer. If you already have a stomach ulcer, cut the booze — unless you have a death wish.

Smoking: I know this page is starting to sound like it was written by a puritan, but smoking is also a major risk factor for stomach ulcers. The precise reason for this is unknown. One possibility is that enough smoke manages to make its way down the esophagus, at least in some smokers, to mess with the stomach lining. Another possibility has to do with vitamin C: as we’ll see later, for reasons that are entirely unknown, vitamin C seems to be powerfully protective against stomach ulcers, and smoking destroys vitamin C. In an effort to combat the “oxidative stress” that smoking places on your body, your body ends up using more vitamin C than you can shake a stick at.

Stress: Once fingered as the cause of stomach ulcers, stress has now been relegated to a back seat, and debates continue to rage over whether or not stress is implicated in allowing Helicobacter and its friends to get a hold. Certainly stress causes adrenalin (epinephrine) to be produced, which slows or stops digestion and has a generally profound effect on the stomach. If you’re very stressed, consider taking up meditation. Or something.

Caffeine: Oh no! Don’t say it’s true. Even tea and coffee are bad for stomach ulcers and heartburn. Caffeine increases stomach acid levels and relaxes the sphincter (valve) that stops acid from your stomach getting into your esophagus. Which means pain.

Tomatoes and tomato-based foods: OK so you’ve had to lay off the booze, fags and coffee, but surely you can still kick back with a nice tomato in the evening, right? Wrong! Whether tomatoes are bad for gastric ulcers is not entirely clear (they are generally said to be so, but I have no idea why); they are however certainly bad for heartburn and probably for duodenal ulcers too. The reason for this is that tomatoes, like caffeine, cause a relaxation of the sphincter muscles that keep your stomach acid where it’s supposed to be.

Overeating: Overeating, it goes without saying, puts undesirable stress on your digestive system, encourages the production of stomach acid and tends to cause acid reflux (heartburn). Don’t do it.

Cured meats: Cured meats are generally cured with nitrates, which can turn into cancer-causing nitrosamines in your stomach. This may be especially likely if your stomach acid levels are low due to having a persistent Helicobacter infection. So while cured meats may not bother your ulcer, if you have an ulcer you’d be well advised to go easy on them, due to your already hugely-enhanced chances of getting stomach cancer. Bad news, I know. Sorry! Cured meats means bacon, ham and even sausages. But the good news is, if you literally follow all the advice on this page, you will probably achieve enlightenment by next week due to the extreme monk-like purity of your lifestyle. So that’s something.

Milk and milk products: Bit of a double-edged sword this one. Milk and yogurt temporarily neutralize stomach acid, but also encourage the stomach to produce more of the stuff — meaning you might feel OK for a while, then end up in a worse state an hour or two later on.

NSAIDS: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen are capable of causing stomach ulcers in themselves, without any other risk factors being present. If you have gastritis or a stomach ulcer, don’t take them. Unless you have a death wish. And you like pain. A lot.

Salt: There’s some evidence that salt is a risk factor for stomach ulcers, surprisingly. In fact, some research suggests that coffee, long fingered as a prime suspect, may be relatively blameless when compared to salt. Excess salt presumably irritates the lining of the stomach, allowing Helicobacter to get a hold.

Remedies that Treat the Symptoms

Apple cider vinegar: Now here’s a strange thing. You’d think that acid of any sort would be the last thing a person with heartburn, gastritis or stomach ulcer would want to consume. Apple cider is of course rather acidic; and yet a search on Google quickly reveals that lots of people with stomach problems swear that apple cider relieves their symptoms and can even, in some cases, effect a cure. Some say that unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is the stuff you need. For those without a degree in apple ciderology, basically apple cider vinegar is vinegar made from apple cider, instead of from wine or by synthetic methods. You can buy apple cider in supermarkets; it looks and tastes pretty much like normal vinegar except it’s more apple-colored. If you go to a health food shop, you can buy the unpasteurized hippy variety; this generally has a cloudy appearance.

Why would would apple cider vinegar help with stomach problems of a type that are made worse by acid? A popular theory floating about on the Internet says that people who think they have too much stomach acid, in fact have too little of it. By consuming apple cider vinegar, the acidity of your stomach is increased and your esophageal sphincter then starts closing properly.

I think this theory sound batty. It’s possible, of course, that apple cider contains substances that actually kill Helicobacter, but given the relatively-swift relief that this vinegar is claimed to provide, this seems unlikely. More likely, it seems to me, is that the addition of apple cider vinegar to the acid in your stomach actually makes it less acid. The acid in your stomach is known as hydrochloric acid and it has a pH of 1. That means that it’s as acid as acid can be. Certainly it could be a lot more concentrated, but concentrated or not, your stomach acid can eat through steel given enough time. Add water to it and it still has a pH of 1; it’s just more dilute and so will take longer to dissolve steel nails, or your stomach lining.

But add a weak acid (such as the acetic acid in vinegar) to a strong acid such as hydrochloric acid, and the pH actually goes up; in other words, it becomes less acid.

At least — I think that’s the case; it would be nice if a chemist could confirm or refute this theory; it’s a long time since I studied this stuff. Or better still, someone with some hydrochloric acid, some vinegar and pH testing papers.

Why? Acids actually consist of groups of atoms that include at least one hydrogen atom. The core of a hydrogen atom is a thing called a proton. What happens is, these protons — think of them as being not unlike biting ants, but smaller — tend to wander off and randomly attack whatever’s around, be it your stomach lining or whatever. Normally of course your stomach protects itself using a layer of mucus, but an ulcer is fully exposed to these nasty little critters.

In a strong acid, such as the hydrochloric acid that your stomach produces, pretty much all the protons in the acid are wandering around freely at any given time. That’s what makes the acid strong. Dilute it and they’re still out there, looking for trouble; it’s just that they are more widely dispersed.

In a weak acid, lots of these protons are stuck to other atoms and can’t get away to cause trouble. Mix a strong acid with a weak acid and, if I remember my chemistry correctly, the clusters of atoms that make up the weak acid tend to attract the protons of the strong acid and, in a nutshell, limit the amount of damage they can do.

If this theory is correct, of course, ordinary vinegar may be as effective as apple cider vinegar. Or else perhaps apple cider vinegar contains an acid — malic acid, perhaps — that somehow does the job more effectively. Or perhaps the taste of apple cider vinegar is just a lot less repulsive than that brown stuff you put on your chips.

Whatever the whys and wherefores, if you want to try apple cider vinegar for your indigestion or heart burn, do not drink it neat. That’s asking for trouble. Mix one or two tablespoons with a glass of water (warm water is typically mentioned) and drink it through a straw, trying not to let it touch your teeth. Repeat two or three times as necessary. Pain relief is said not to be instant, but to occur over some period of time. Some people recommend drinking one glass of this concoction morning and evening, an hour before eating. Does it work?

Well, it’s unlikely to cure your stomach ulcer, if that’s your problem. Really you need antibiotics for a permanent cure. But it really does seem to work extremely well when it comes to settling an acid stomach. It works for acid reflux, and probably it can reduce the pain of a stomach ulcer. The relief generally isn’t immediate, but when it comes, it lasts longer and seems more complete than if you’d taken antacids. This may be due to the acid-buffering effects of vinegar, who knows. If your stomach is too acid or you have heartburn, I strongly recommend this stuff.

Apples: Some people, including me, find that apples are incredibly effective at relieving heartburn. As to why — maybe the acid in them actually somewhat neutralizes stomach acid, as outlined in the above theory, and I suspect that chewed-up apples, which contain a “gelling agent” called pectin, actually act as a mechanical barrier to stomach acid getting into your esophagus, floating on top of your stomach contents. At any rate, apples are good for you so don’t hesitate to give them a try.

Milk: As mentioned above, milk is a double-edged sword. A glass of milk and an apple may relieve heartburn symptoms, but milk may actually make your symptoms worse later on by stimulating your stomach to produce more acid.

Probiotic Fermented Milk Products: A double-edged sword, for the same reason as milk. However, there is some evidence that “probiotic” yogurts and milk products, especially those containing live bacteria, may facilitate the healing of gastric ulcers and increase the thickness of the mucus that lines the stomach to a modest extent.

From hereon in I’ll include a few references to scientific studies where appropriate, but don’t hesitate to search Pubmed yourself if you want more information.

Yogurt containing Lactobacillus gasseri OLL 2716 (LG21 yogurt) accelerated the healing of acetic acid-induced gastric ulcer in rats.
Probiotic bacteria Escherichia coli strain Nissle 1917 attenuates acute gastric lesions induced by stress.
Effect of Bifidobacterium bifidum fermented milk on Helicobacter pylori and serum pepsinogen levels in humans.

Antacids: Not necessarily a natural product of course, but antacids are helpful in healing stomach ulcers. They neutralize the stomach’s acid, allowing your ulcer to get a little breathing space to heal.

Proton Pump Inhibitors and H2 antagonists: OK, these are totally unnatural and don’t entirely fit with the theme of this article, but I’m including them here for the sake of completeness. Proton pump inhibitors and H2 antagonists (Zantac for instance) are pharmaceuticals that decrease the amount of acid in your stomach. Proton pump inhibitors are commonly prescribed as part of a stomach ulcer treatment regime, along with antibiotics, while H2 antagonists are available from your local chemist. Both can potentially have side-effects, but the side effects generally aren’t as bad as those due to an untreated stomach ulcer! (There’s a little British understatement going on there, in case you missed it …)

Changing Your Diet: This is really a subject that deserves a whole website all to itself. Needless to say, it’s best to avoid anything that makes your stomach hurt, and try to eat things that don’t make it hurt. A stomach ulcer is unfortunately a huge risk factor for stomach cancer, which is already one of the most common cancers around, so you might want to think about changing your diet long-term to lower your risk of stomach cancer. See below for more details. Basically you might want to consider getting plenty of fruit and vegetables, most especially vegetables in the cabbage family such as broccoli, cauliflower and of course cabbage. Consider eating raw onions if your stomach feels OK with them, and get plenty of fibre and vitamin C. If you’re careful, you can eventually die of a stroke or heart attack rather than having your insides dissolved by stomach acid as the cancer eats you away from the inside. Sweet.

Remedies Intended to Cure the Problem

Garlic and Raw onions: It’s crazy but it’s true, a diet high in raw onions seems to significantly decrease your risk of dying of stomach cancer, which is something you should be grateful for if you have a stomach ulcer. Or of course it could just be that only people with strong stomachs eat raw onions. Garlic actually kills Helicobacter in vitro. Here, a side note is in order. Many substances kill germs in vitro, that is to say, in a test tube. Sadly most of these prove useless in vivo, that is, in actual living organisms. Garlic kills Helicobacter in vitro, at concentrations that could be reached in your stomach via the consumption of one clove of raw garlic (enough to clear a 2-meter space around you even in the London Tube). For that matter, hydrochloric acid kills Helicobacter in vitro, but is sadly ineffective in vivo. In vitro results therefore have to be taken with a big pinch of salt. Nevertheless, consumption of allium vegetables (onions, shallots, leeks, garlic — but especially onions) does seem to correlate negatively with stomach cancer, so if you like raw onion and your partner has no sense of smell, consider eating it a lot.

Consumption of Large Amounts of Allium Vegetables Reduces Risk for Gastric Cancer in a Meta-Analysis.
Allium vegetables and stomach cancer risk in China
Consumption of onions and a reduced risk of stomach carcinoma

Expensive herbal preparations: While one can’t rule out that there could be some kind of herbal preparation unknown to science that secretly cures stomach ulcers, most cases of alleged cures through dodgy herbal preparations are mostly likely cases where Nature did the healing and the herbs were merely an expensive bystander. Save your money. As you’ll see if you read this page, your best chances of staving off or even curing ulcer- or bacteria-related stomach problems, aside from antibiotics, lie with foods and substances that are cheap and widely available.

Manuka honey: Manuka honey is honey from New Zealand from bees that have fed off the manuka tree (also known, along with other plants, as the “tea tree”). Manuka honey kills Helicobacter in vitro, but it might well be useless in vivo. It’s also expensive, so unless you have money to burn, you might be better off spending your cash on something more effective. Manuka honey does, according to some studies, help to heal certain types of leg ulcers when applied directly, but the prospects of it curing your stomach ulcer are dubious. In summary, manuka honey can’t be written off, yet, but at the moment it’s unclear whether it actually helps stomach problems or not.

Mastic: Mastic is a kind of gum obtained from a certain tree and used in Greek cooking. As with manuka honey and lots of other things, it kills Helicobacter in vitro. Mastic is a traditional remedy for dyspepsia, and does seem to help calm the stomach. Now, I’ll be honest with you. I was all ready to pen a summary writing mastic off. It’s just too easy to get carried away with the idea that traditional remedies, proven effective in vitro, might actually help in vivo, when in fact often they don’t. But there’s enough scientific evidence now to suggest that mastic actually does help to suppress and even eradicate Helicobacter. On the other hand, some studies find that it doesn’t help at all. What’s going on here? I don’t know.

The effect of mastic gum on Helicobacter pylori: a randomized pilot study.
The effect of mastic gum on Helicobacter pylori: a randomized pilot study
Is Chios mastic gum effective in the treatment of functional dyspepsia? A prospective randomised double-blind placebo controlled trial.
Monotherapy with mastic does not eradicate Helicobacter pylori infection from mice.
A double-blind controlled clinical trial of mastic and placebo in the treatment of duodenal ulcer.

Green tea: Green tea is another of those things that can kill Helicobacter in a test tube, but probably not in human beings. A large study in Japan failed to find any inverse relationship between green tea consumption and deaths from stomach cancer, which you’d expect to find if green tea had any effect on Helicobacter

A prospective study of stomach cancer death in relation to green tea consumption in Japan.
Inhibitory Potential of Tea Polyphenolics and Influence of Extraction Time Against Helicobacter pylori and Lack of Inhibition of Beneficial Lactic Acid Bacteria.
Green tea and the risk of gastric cancer in Japan.

Cruciferous Vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc) suppress Helicobacter and seem to be associated with a decreased risk of dying of stomach cancer. Great news. Sadly this confirms the terrible truth that you already suspected …. we should be eating less sausages and more cabbage. “But sausages are so tasty!” I hear you cry. Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger ….

Cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and gastrointestinal cancer risks in a multicenter, hospital-based case-control study in Japan.
Baby broccoli ‘controls gut bug’

Cranberry juice: Cranberry juice can apparently suppress Helicobacter in vivo, in addition to suppressing bladder infections. Whether or not that sugary stuff sold in supermarkets as “cranberry drink” has the same effect is another matter. The effect isn’t massive, but it’s strong enough to make cranberry juice worth drinking if you have gastritis or a stomach ulcer.

Efficacy of cranberry juice on Helicobacter pylori infection: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial.

Vitamin C: Finally we come to a surprise late entry in the semi-natural Helicobacter suppression championships: vitamin C. Vitamin C has an interesting history even aside from Helicobacter, from the gradual emergence of the recognition that cetain foods contain something that can prevent that dreaded disease of sailors — no not syphilis, but the other one, scurvy — to its isolation by Hungarian and American researchers around 1930. In the 1960s, twice Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling became somewhat irrationally convinced that massive doses of vitamin C were important for good health and have the ability to prevent colds. Years of research proving that vitamin C cannot prevent colds has subsequently failed to eradicate the association in people’s minds between vitamin C and cold prevention. Vitamin C occupies a similarly controversial position with respect to Helicobacter, some studies finding that vitamin C can help to eradicate Helicobacter (one study even claimed that vitamin C alone at 5g per day eradicates Helicobacter in 30% of subjects), while other studies find no effect at all.

What the devil is going on here? Damned if I know. Maybe it’s the usual story — wishful thinking skewing research results in favour of remedies that the researchers want to work. Or maybe vitamin C works on some types of people, under some circumstances. Hard to say.

Effects of high dose vitamin C treatment on Helicobacter pylori infection and total vitamin C concentration in gastric juice.
The efficacy of Helicobacter pylori eradication regimen with and without vitamin C supplementation.
The effect of 5-year vitamin C supplementation on serum pepsinogen level and Helicobacter pylori infection.
[Effect of vitamin C administration on gastric colonization by Helicobacter pylori].
Adjuvant effect of vitamin C on omeprazole-amoxicillin-clarithromycin triple therapy for Helicobacter pylori eradication.
Effect of addition of vitamin C to clarithromycin-amoxicillin-omeprazol triple regimen on Helicobacter pylori eradication.

The Squiffy Method for Not Dying of Stomach Cancer

No prizes for guessing that vitamin C gets my star recommendation when it comes to substances that might actually eradicate or seriously suppress Helicobacter, short of antibiotics. Unfortunately it might easily be totally useless since the studies on it are contradictory, but at least it’s cheap, and there’s as much or more evidence to support its efficacy than for more expensive remedies such as manuka honey and mastic. Apples can also be very useful in preventing heart burn, and to really increase your stomach health long term, consider eating cruciferous vegetables, raw or cooked, several times a week. Raw onions are also a good idea for your long-term stomach health, if your stomach will tolerate them; just don’t breathe on anyone within 24 hours of eating them if you want to keep your friends. Mastic gum capsules may or may not help — it’s very unclear. Given the expense of mastic, you might be better off sticking with vitamin C, which is dirt cheap. And finally, apple cider vinegar may help settle your stomach and stave off those gut-wrenching acute attacks — you know, the ones where you’re rolling about in pain with a hideous bloated feeling in your stomach, while a small animal gnaws at your insides. And staving off those can’t be a bad thing, can it? If there’s one “natural” remedy on this whole page that I can heartily recommend to help with acid-related symptoms (although it probably won’t cure an ulcer), it’s apple cider vinegar.

An Important Footnote

I’ve spoken throughout this article as though all forms and manifestations of Helicobacter infection — gastritis, stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers — are basically the same; that is, they have similar symptoms and result in similar outcomes. But this is really not the case, and in fact I became aware after completing most of this article that while gastric (stomach) ulcers are a significant risk factor for stomach cancer, duodenal ulcers are not, and in fact may even protect against stomach cancer!

The risk of stomach cancer in patients with gastric or duodenal ulcer disease.

Duodenal ulcers (occurring in the upper part of the intestine where the stomach empties into it) occur typically in younger people than gastric ulcers and are regarded as far less serious. As mentioned earlier, some say that a stomach ulcer will hurt when you eat, while a duodenal ulcer will hurt when your stomach is empty. This may or may not be true. Only an endoscopy can tell you for sure whether you’ve got an ulcer or not, and what kind if so.

You can also find many references to heartburn in this article. A gnawing pain in your stomach could easily be due to heartburn (acid reflux), stomach ulcer, duodenal ulcer or something else. Of course, go and see a doctor — but if you’ve seen a doctor already or your problem isn’t serious enough to warrant a doctor, maybe the ideas on this page can help you sort your stomach out.

And finally, before you panic too much about your real or imagined H. pylori infection, it’s worth bearing in mind the wise words of Professor Kenneth McColl, quoted here from the UK’s Daily Mail in regard to the home testing kits that you can find, for instance on Amazon: “Half the world’s population is infected by the H. pylori bacteria, so a positive test would not mean an ulcer”.

The Forests of Budapest

Posted by – June 1, 2011

Budapest Forest

Forest near Budapest

It’s true that Budapest is full of traffic and traffic fumes, but on the other hand after only a short tram ride followed by a short walk, you can be totally alone in a beautiful forest.

Or at least I think you can — as for myself, I live in an apartment block with irregularly-spaced lights that switch on and off unpredictably and are operated by switches in obscure places; due to this, a couple of days ago I thought I’d finished walking down the staircase in the dark, but in fact I hadn’t. My ankle made an interesting crunching sound, and since then … well, if there are any one-legged hopping championships in Budapest, I’ll definitely enter them.

Before this happened I did have a chance to explore the more popular parts of the forests however. SvábhegyFrom the center of Budapest you can take a tram, metro or bus to Széll Kálmán tér (which used to be called Moskva tér — note the name, because you may still see it on signposts and you’ll get confused), and from there you can take the 59 or 61 tram to the cogwheel tram stop at Varosmajor, which will take you to János hegy or, two stops before, Svábhegy. The cogwheel tram is a tram that’s equipped to climb gradients, and you can travel on it with the ordinary tram tickets and passes that you’d use elsewhere in Budapest.

There’s actually also a “Children’s Railway” (good for adults too) that runs right through the forests, stopping at János hegy and other places. You have to pay separately for this, but it’s a very nice ride, and staffed by amiable Young Communists (OK, they used to be Young Communists, now they are some kind of boy scout ….).

These hills have a number of tourist facilities located on them, catering perhaps more to local “tourists” than foreigners. You can buy food up there — burgers, candy floss, that sort of thing. And this ….

Kürtös kalács

Kürtös kalács

… which is a sort of sweet thing, very tasty, made fresh in front of you and not as sticky as it looks.

On Jánoshegy itself there’s actually a big tower, filled with tourists (at least at the weekend) which you can go up for free.

Jánoshegy

Jánoshegy tower

This is a good vantage point from which to survey the sheer extent of the forest near Budapest. There’s lots of it. It’s fairly old forest too — not horrible scrubby forest of the kind you can find in New Hampshire USA, and not paper farm forest of the kind that mostly occurs in Scotland, but delicious 8-out-of-10 mature forest [Note, 23 July 2011: I was totally wrong about this. Most of it sadly is pretty scrubby. I'm working on figuring out where the best bits are!]. No doubt this forest is filled with interesting fungi when the weather turns cold in autumn, since the climate here is perfect for mushrooms.

I must mention something strange at this point; it’s strange but the birds sing a lot more loudly here than in the UK, Holland, Italy or the one part of the USA that I’ve visited. Are they trying to make themselves heard over the traffic? Budapest must have the loudest blackbirds in the world! The forests are of course full of twittering birds, as well as beautiful shiny green or gold beetles and quite sizeable little green lizards. There are also deer there, but I haven’t spotted any yet myself.

JánoshegyAs you can tell, the forests themselves are the main attraction for me up in the hills — there’s nothing quite like sitting quietly in a forest listening to the sound of leaves rustling and birds singing, in-between hunting for edible mushrooms if it’s autumn or late summer. Nevertheless, I must mention one other attraction of Jánoshegy that is really worth paying a few euros (well, forints) for. There’s actually a ski-lift-type-thing that takes you up and down Jánoshegy if you don’t want to walk. This contraption takes you through the tops of the trees, your feet dangling a dizzying distance from the ground, making you feel not unlike a strange sort of bird. I highly recommend it.

Internet Income: Guru.com

Continuing with this blog’s purported theme of making money while living in cheap (by UK/USA standards) but beautiful places, this week I’ve been creating a profile on Guru.com and bidding on bits of work. I’m still clueless about how this site really works; I don’t know how easy it is to get freelance work on here, how much money you can make, how easy it is to find good contacts through this site, or really anything else. Guru.com has lots of software work on it (which is what I’m mainly looking into), but there’s also web design work, article-writing work and so on. I’ll let you know how it goes. My plan is to start off by bidding on a few contracts, then intensify my efforts if nothing comes of my initial forays. Guru.com makes you pay if you want to bid on more than ten contracts a month, so I’m still deciding whether to stump up cash or not.

Hungarians: Chess-Playing Ping-Pong Jazz Enthusiasts, Every Single One of Them

One last note. I’ve been here a month now and I’m gradually getting to know a little bit about Hungarians. They regard themselves as horribly pessimistic, but I haven’t actually seen any signs of this myself — except that they all think Hungary is rubbish and Britain a paradise. If you were to take politics and economics out of the picture, I would frankly say that the truth was the other way around, going on what I’ve seen of Budapest (but OK Budapest is not Hungary). Of course, politics and economics are unfortunately highly important. I hope Hungary can get on track economically; I’m sure it can, once the current financial crisis dies down a bit.

Cogwheel Tram

Cogwheel Tram

Hungarians really seem like very nice people. They aren’t reserved like English people, or not to the same extent. An old woman took me by the arm and pulled me back from the edge of a tram track the other day; she thought I was standing dangerously close to the tram. People of both sexes spontaneously start talking to me (usually in Hungarian alas, which I am still struggling with!). And let me say that I am tall and serious-looking, which deters people from talking to me in England! It seems as though there is a lack of pretension in Hungarians that is very pleasant. They aren’t trying to impress you or intimidate you. When I first came to Budapest, I half expected to find it crawling with pick-pockets and prostitutes. So far I haven’t encountered either! London at night makes me nervous, but not Budapest. According to a survey I read recently, young people in Hungary are the least committed to large corporations of anyone in Europe. Hungarians, it seems, are far more likely to be jazz- or classical-music-loving artists or mathematics enthusiasts, enjoying ping-pong or chess, than to be squash-playing stooges for some big corporation. This is very refreshing.

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Budapest: The Big Market, Travel Cards, Cafes and Shopping

Posted by – May 27, 2011

Great Market Hall, Budapest

Market stall in the Great Market Hall, Budapest

Since my last post I’ve acquired a monthly travel card in Budapest, meaning I now have a new hobby of tram surfing.

Buying Travel Cards and Tickets in Budapest

If you come to Budapest for a few days, you can buy a Budapest travel card for one, two or three days. I think three days is about 25 euros. They are sold at the kiosks in the (underground) metro stations and at tourist information. If you don’t speak any Hungarian, probably best to buy from tourist information (or maybe you can get them in the airport somewhere), since otherwise you have to deal with Hungary’s most miserable citizens — the elderly women who work in the metro station kiosks. To be fair, it is probably a very tiring job, and badly paid. Hungarians do not smile superfluously.

You can also buy them from the machines in the metro, but dealing with those machines is almost worse than dealing with the old women — especially since some dodgy-looking geezer will probably try to sell you a dodgy-looking ticket for twice the price while you’re attempting to figure out the machine.

However, there is a secret that is jealously garded from tourists. For 9800 forint (about 36 euros), you can buy a bérlet (monthly travel pass) that lets you travel on trams, buses and the metro as much as you like for an entire month! Probably you want a havi bérlet felnőtt (monthly season ticket for adults). There are other sorts besides felnőtt (adult): diák (student), nyugdíjas (retired), etc. You must also say when you want it to start from, e.g. mától (from today).

Write down this stuff on a piece of paper and point to it! Try to look very serious at the same time.

You also need a little bit of paper called a bérletigazolvány for 250 forint — I don’t know what this is, but they will sell you one when you buy the monthly pass.

Oh, and I should mention you’ll need a passport photo to buy the monthly travel pass. But don’t worry, there are passport photo machines in most metro stations. Of course they ask you things in Hungarian, but as long as you are familiar with the machines in your own language, stay calm and you can work out how to get photos out of them.

Otherwise, you’re stuck with buying a “jegy” (ticket) from the newspaper kiosks in the metro stations and elsewhere. Each jegy is good for a single journey and costs 300 huf (forint, that is). You have to punch them in the machines on trams or buses, or at the entrances to metros. The machines often don’t work, meaning you either get a free trip or a 45-euro fine, depending on whether you meet with a member of the Kontroll (ticket inspectors) who disguise themselves cleverly as ordinary people. You can also buy a ten-ticket book of tickets (egy 10 darabos gyűjtőjegy). Don’t try to pronounce that without training though …. they won’t understand you, trust me.

Café Street and the Great Market Hall … and Repairing Your Computer in Budapest

Ráday utca

Ráday utca

Not long after I arrived here, my new laptop broke. Asus …. I won’t be buying one of these again! Turns out my Asus warranty from Holland is only valid in a bunch of random countries that I don’t live in. Fortunately these people fixed it for me, for a mere 12,000 huf. They all speak great English — in fact the technicians are from New Zealand and America.

Even if you don’t have an Asus laptop (lucky you), Ráday ut (street) is worth visiting. It’s full of cafés frequented by students and assorted others. You can find Ráday ut just down from Kálvin tér (square), where lots of trams stop. Visible from a street off to the right as you walk down Ráday ut is the ornate Great Market Hall — a huge place full of lots of stalls selling fruit and veg, meat, preserves, chocolates and so on.

Great Market Hall, Budapest

Great Market Hall, Budapest

General Shopping

One of the tricky things when you move to a new country is working out where to buy stuff. Even if you’re moving between two countries that are quite similar (and most big towns are quite similar these days!), it’s still a bit tricky.

Here in Budapest, there are big supermarkets like you find in the UK, Italy, Holland, USA and so on. The biggest ones are Spar, Kaiser’s (suspiciously similar to Spar — I don’t understand why they have different names!), and even Tesco, the British supermarket. Type Spar Budapest into Google Maps and you’ll easily find them.

There’s also an IKEA here, but that I have yet to experience ….

If you need a computer, a printer, paper or a fan (you probably will need a fan!), there’s an office supplies shop halfway up Király utca, a street that leads up from Deák Ferenc tér in Pest.

There are lots of health food shops in Budapest — search for “biobolt” in Google Maps to find them.

And here’s a tip that I didn’t include in the first draft of this page, due to my naivete …. Don’t buy fruit, or vegetables if possible, from supermarkets. The fruit and veg is MUCH better if you buy it from a market or a grocer’s. People often claim that this is true in England, but in Budapest it really, really is true. Buy vegetables from the otherwise-excellent Spar and, no offence Spar, but you might easily end up throwing half of them away. But round the corner from Spar you are likely to find a fruit shop selling the same stuff but of much better quality. You might even find an old woman from a village somewhere selling you excellent cherries at discount prices. If you see one of these old women, don’t write them off … stop and buy what they’re selling! It’s usually good, and cheap.

That’s all for the moment — it’s 33 degrees here and the heat of my laptop is making me turn into a puddle.

Oh dear, this blog has largely lost its original purpose and is now about Budapest. Maybe it’ll get back on track later.

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Budapest: Internet, Margaret Island, Tesco and Other Things

Posted by – May 9, 2011

It’s a week now since I moved to Budapest, and so far things have gone very well. I love it here! I’ve never liked anywhere so much in my life, in fact.

When I first arrived I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get a good Internet connection here. But in fact I’ve already arranged a broadband connection that most of the time is faster than the connection I had in Cambridge or The Hague (it’s 5 Mbs and so far has only got slow on Saturday morning). When I arrived my landlady already had a USB mobile connection with T-Mobile that I was able to use. Lots of people here just use that, it seems. It costs around 25 euros per month, has a speed of about 2.5 Mbs and a 15 Gb limit per month.

Since I don’t want to be stuck with that limit, I went into the T-Mobile shop on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Street. I had to queue a long time but it was worth it. The woman on the desk spoke some English, but she changed places with a guy who spoke more. I arranged a broadband Internet connection and bought a pay-as-you-go SIM. The Internet connection costs around 4300 forint per month, which isn’t bad. They told me someone would call me on my new mobile SIM within a week. I was worried I wouldn’t understand, and indeed the woman who phoned didn’t speak English. But fortunately the Hungarian lessons that I’ve already taken stood me in good stead, and I understood enough to know that an engineer was coming “tomorrow between 12 and 2″.

But actually every communication from T-Home so far has been followed by a text that I could translate at my leisure, so I needn’t have worried!

Tesco

Tesco Free Bus Times Budapest

Tesco Free Bus Timetable, Budapest

Tesco Free Bus Times Notice, Budapest

Tesco Free Bus Times Notice, Budapest

I’ve also been meeting up with someone from SharedTalk.com. Lots and lots of people contacted me on this site — lots of Hungarians really badly want to learn English. It’s great! Most of them don’t live in Budapest or don’t want to meet up, but I found someone who is in Budapest and did want to meet after we’d exchanged emails for a while, so now I have a very helpful and nice new friend …. Among other things she showed me the free bus to Tesco. I’m amazed that Tesco (“the supermarket that’s eating Britain”) is here, and selling nearly the exact same products that it does in Britain, including a book on “Vilmos and Kate” (William and Kate, the English royal couple).

Actually there are lots of Tescos here, as well as Spar which we also have in Britain. But in Britain Spar is usually a small shop that you go to because it’s close by, while here it’s pronounced “Shpar” and is a large supermarket. I bought some tomatoes from “Shpar” that were probably the tastiest I’ve ever had.

Fruit and veg here is really good in general (apart from the stuff they sell at Tesco, unfortunately!). Of course there are also lots of markets. There’s even a place where you can take mushrooms you’ve picked in the woods and get them identified.

Margaret Island

Another wonderful find for me was Margit (Margaret) Island. This is an island in the Danube that was constructed mostly artificially a long time ago to control the flow of the Danube. Now it’s a sort of huge garden, with old castle ruins, an enclosure with stork and deer, various athletic facilities and a rubberised running track all the way around the edge. So I’ve been running around this beautiful island — or halfway around anyway, which is all I can manage after two years of sitting at a desk!

In fact I’m going for a run shortly, maybe after another coffee.

I’ve decided to give myself maybe a month to settle in and relax, then I’m going to start looking for ways to make cash. I still have a few hurdles to get over, including getting a residence permit (which I managed to skip in both Italy and Holland, although doing so makes me a little uneasy so I’d like to get one here if possible) and buying a computer printer.

Meanwhile I’ve been composing a page for one of my other websites advertising computer programming lessons and working on learning Flash programming so that I can develop a language-learning game that runs on a web page.

Anyway, I see there is beautiful sunshine out there so enough blogging for today. Today my plan is to go for a run, learn some Hungarian and then tonight I’m playing table tennis with some Hungarians. If I had stayed in Holland, right now I would already be sitting at my desk in a stuffy office, watching my colleague opposite me frowning at some complicated network problem and hoping that the post-lunch sleepiness doesn’t hit me too hard today. I’m really determined to find a way to stay here if possible, without having any further association with offices!

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Buying Cheap Farms in Hungary, and Thoughts On Baggage

Posted by – May 1, 2011

Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton

Since I find myself in Eindhoven Airport with nothing to do, I feel it’s time for another addition to my journal.

Firstly, about baggage. There should be a law named after someone authoritative that the quantity of belongings you have to clear out of a house always exceed the capacity of your available baggage. I thought I’d be traveling with around 40Kg, which I can just about manage, but instead I find myself with two bags weighing 30Kg each, plus another bag of 10Kg, plus a laptop. Travel would be impossible via cowboys like Ryanair, but fortunately Wizzair lets you add more bags of up to 32Kg each for 15 euros per bag. Very reasonable! Hope I don’t try to check in and find they’ll only actually let me take a total of 32Kg! [Update: I had no problems -- the Wizzair limit is indeed per bag, not total. God bless them!!!]

Today I left my apartment in The Hague, and later this evening if things go smoothly I’ll be meeting my new Italian landlady in Buda. If things go badly, on the other hand, I’ll be dragging nearly my own weight in luggage around the streets of Buda late in the evening …

Fortunately for me, random people have been very helpful in assisting me in getting all these bags up and down various steps. Holland seems to be infested with steps today. Maybe next time I’ll explore other options more; I could have sent these bags to Hungary for 115 euros per bag; I could have flown multiple times I suppose, or I could have hired a car and driven there. But then I would have had to drive the car back.

A colleague (ex-colleague now – I left my job on Friday!) was telling me that a friend of his bought a dillapidated farmhouse in Hungary not long ago for 4000 euros. 4000 euros!! And that includes lots of land with trees. It’s incredible. As far as I know there is no council tax in Hungary, so once you’ve got your farmhouse, all you have to do is connect up the utilities and try to sort it out a bit. There are still farmhouses available for that kind of price. check here for example.

Totally amazing! You could buy a farm on your credit card … which I think I may well do, at least once I’ve learnt some more Hungarian so I can get local prices and not tourist Internet prices.

This is definitely going to be a future topic of research for this blog.

I’ve made some contacts in Hungary before going there, through SharedTalk.com, a site for finding people who speak the language you want to learn, so you can practice in exchange for helping them with your own language. Someone I’ve been chatting to through this site tells me that she thinks lots of English people in Budapest make a living teaching English there. Again, this is a future topic of research for this blog. Next week (or even this week) I’ll be looking for places I can put up cards advertising my services as a teacher of the English language.

I’ll also be attempting to teach computer programming online. I feel this could be potentially more lucrative than teaching English, but on the other hand teaching English fits a lot better with the original premiss of this blog, which was to look into ways that anyone can step into a new lifestyle, something different to the “normal” 9-5 office-job-type lifestyle that I have myself been sucked reluctantly into for the past 13 years or so.

Hopefully I’ll be posting again here soon, unless my new Internet connection doesn’t work, which is completely possible.

Right now I feel I’ve stumbled onto something that could potentially really work for almost anyone, or at least for very many people — for only a few thousand Euros you can buy a farmhouse in Hungary; then (as long as you can get it connected to the Internet) you can potentially teach your own language to people online.

Of course to be mad enough to actually try this, you’d have to really hate your job. Which I do. Although I feel bad saying that, since the colleagues I’ve just left behind were very nice people and my former boss seems to be in a bit of a spot due to lots of people leaving for various reasons. But come on, can it really be remotely natural to spend basically all day every day in a modern office building? I for one was much happier living in a tent, although it’s a little socially isolating.

Yesterday was Queen’s Day in the Netherlands, the biggest celebration in the Dutch calendar. On Friday night the streets were packed in The Hague, then yesterday I understand Amsterdam was very busy. Friday was also royal wedding day in the UK. My sister and mum have been telling me they watched TV partly to see where I went to university — yes, Prince William and I went to the same university, although he probably didn’t finish off his time there with a long stay in a tent on the cliffs. Or maybe he did. Yesterday evening people were selling things from stalls in The Hague (a Queen’s Day tradition), and a young studious-looking guitar player sat down outside my window and sang things like “New York, New York” and “What a Wonderful World”. A very nice send-off. Thanks, Netherlands!

And now it’s time to go and check in my many bags …

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The Moonlight Sonata: Beethoven’s Psychedelic Danube Journey

Posted by – April 28, 2011


The Moonlight Sonata, accompanied by a video making full use of selective saturation in an attempt to emulate the experience of drug-induced psychosis.

 

I’m about to leave the Netherlands for good, so naturally I felt that that during my last full weekend I needed to experience the main thing the Netherlands is famous for: tulips. However, since the famous Keukenhof is an hour away by bus, and since my level of interest in tulips approaches zero, I decided instead to purchase four grams of exotic herbs from one of the many “coffee shops” that do business openly and freely in The Hague, bake it into cakes and consume it at the rate of one gram per day for every day of the Easter weekend.

I then attempted to document the experience using a cheap camera and a somewhat complex but powerful video editing computer language, Avisynth.

Psychosis

A while ago I posted an article to this website arguing that the experience of psychedelic drugs (which these Dutch herbs may fairly be called when eaten rather than smoked) and schizophrenic psychosis are probably very similar experiences, the main difference being that involuntary psychosis quickly becomes an experience of attempting to deal with a complicated modern world while in an altered state of mind unsuited to such a task.

“Psychosis” is often thought of as having something to do with axe murderers and violent mad people, but really (at least in my view) the word should be reserved for the distinct and usually peaceful state of mind that I outlined in my previous article on the subject.

Although I’ve (thankfully) never experienced involuntary psychosis, I have experienced temporary “psychosis” due to consuming psilocybin mushrooms during a period when they were widely believed to be legal in the UK, and were sold openly in high street shops. I have also experienced the effects of eating large amounts of cannabis, since I live in the Netherlands where cannabis is also sold openly and, for all practical purposes, legally. While the two drugs are very different, they share some interesting common features.

One of the most striking, and to me the most enjoyable, aspects of the experience provided by both of these psychedelic drugs — also experienced by many people who are becoming involuntarily psychotic — is the curious effect psychosis has on the perception of colors, which I’ve attempted to reproduce in this video.

It’s impossible to truly render this effect in film, but certainly one can create a crude approximation of it. The effect involves certain colors glowing, to the point where it can become intensely pleasurable to look at them. Psychedelic drugs tend to cause all colors to become more vivid, or “saturated”, beyond the point that one could ever experience in normal life. But often certain specific colors in a given scene will glow far more intensely than all the others.

For reasons that I can only speculate on, purple seems to be the color most likely to be affected in this way, at least for me. During my first experience of an effective dose of mushrooms, I remember staring joyfully at a purple UK 20-pound note. I found it interesting, therefore, that when the UK sports presenter David Icke began to undergo some curious psychological experiences that some have called a breakdown, he became obsessed with the color turquoise, which he wore at all times.

A Color You’ll Never See on a TV Screen

Why purple might be more readily subject to this effect than other colors, I don’t know, except that I might observe that purple is close to violet, a color which in scientific terms carries the most energy per photon of any hue of visible light.

Violet is an unusual color when you think about it. Computers, televisions and most printed media cannot reproduce this color whatsoever; they can only produce a purple approximation of it. If you want to see violet, you can look at the very edge of a rainbow, where it fades into invisibility at the opposite edge to red, always on the lower edge of the rainbow while red is always at the upper edge. But you can’t look at a photograph of a rainbow (at least not on your computer), because violet won’t be there. You will see only purple.

Beyond violet, the rainbow fades out into invisibility. In fact the rainbow is still there, but it has transitioned into a range of hues that human beings cannot see, known collectively as “ultra-violet”. Insects can see these hues however, and flowers that rely on insects for pollination are secretly zoned in ultraviolet hues, the zones pointing the way to the flower’s nectar and pollen.

Whether the tendency of purple and violet to glow under psychosis has anything to do with all this is anyone’s guess.

Selective Saturation

Other colors can absolutely also be affected this way in the psychotic state of mind. For instance I once consumed a biscuit laced with cannabis while in a coffee shop with a friend (this was an actual coffee shop, in the English sense, with coffee); a girl walked in wearing yellow shoes and carrying a yellow bag. Suddenly my eyes matched the yellow bag with the shoes and some more yellow that they found behind the counter, adorning the labels of drinks bottles. The entire scene appeared to me as a beautiful riot of matching yellow objects.

There’s no way to reproduce this effect on video, since you’d have to turn up the saturation control in the visual cortex of the person observing the video. But a crude and far less lovely approximation can be rendered by desaturating all the colors in a video except for one or two specific colors, which you make more saturated.

This effect is very similar to the “selective coloration” you can see in the film Schindler’s List, where a girl wearing a bright red coat appears in an otherwise black-and-white scene. However, there you see one particular object in color, whereas in the video above, certain hues are over-saturated while others are removed. I’ve also experimented with over-saturating only the most saturated colors in a scene, while desaturating the others, and with changing the hue of the selected colors.

Avisynth allows you to do all of this, as well as allowing you to edit and dub video clips.

Footage for this video was taken over the Easter weekend in The Hague (Den Haag), and in Budapest last month.

There’s one common object that I didn’t include in the video and probably should have. While tripping on my first ever effective dose of mushrooms (purchased apparently legally from an “alternative” shop in a busy Cambridge high street), I happened to come across a set of traffic lights near dusk. They amused me no end, since instead of changing to red, then to orange and then green, they seemed to change to an outrageously strong shade of red, followed by an incredibly vivid shade of orange, and then to a green the like of which I had never previously seen.

It was as if red had been replaced by an enormous display of red fireworks and red lasers, followed by a vast crowd of people wearing orange and throwing oranges into the air while holding orange floodlights, followed by …. but you get the idea. The degree of effort the traffic lights appeared to put into their work seemed hilarious at the time.

Once you’ve experienced these curious effects, you are liable to find yourself looking at ordinary scenes and mentally picking out the most saturated hue. It can become a habit, always looking for the most vivid shades of color in everything you see.

If you read people’s experience of psychedelic drugs at Erowid.org, you’ll see that this effect is much sought-after by connoisseurs of the psychedelic experience. Yet it always remains elusive. I’ve taken psilocybin mushrooms several times (in the interests of science, you understand) but have only fully experienced this effect once. I have also eaten large quantities of cannabis on several occasions, baked into cakes or biscuits. Only perhaps two or three times did I fully experience these delightful glowing colors. It’s as if something gets used up in your brain, and after a while the experience becomes mostly inaccessible.

This may explain why the psychedelic drug experience often seems to be primarily visual (as well as psychological of course), while schizophrenia is more closely associated with audible hallucinations. The visual effects of psychosis tend to decrease rapidly with time, while audible hallucinations (which I have scarcely experienced at all) seem to become more prominent with repeated exposure.

Possibly color saturation is related to rising levels of the psychosis-inducing substance in the brain, while audible effects tend to reflect more a general mental disorganization, which requires time to really get going.

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The Hall of Spam: Weird and Wonderful Comments Left By People You’d Rather Not Hear From

Posted by – April 21, 2011

Hell

A painting by Hieronymus Bosch, illustrating what happens to people who leave spam comments on websites.

For the past couple of months I’ve been working on two blogs in order to build up my understanding of SEO and blogging, as well as just for fun. You’re reading one of them right now. During this time I’ve been received many, many wonderful comments. The only problem is, most of them came from random people who apparently hadn’t even glanced at the article they were commenting on.

(Incidentally, if you left a genuine comment on my blog, thanks!)

Why, you may be wondering, would a person leave comments on a blog page without reading the page? Part of the answer is of course that this blog, like many others, allows you to enter a URL alongside your comment. So the commenter gets a bit of free advertising by leaving his or her URL on a throwaway comment.

How Google Inadvertently Drives Spam

But there’s another answer too, one that I suspect is the real driver behind most of the spam. Google determines a site’s popularity by looking at how many other sites link to it. The more popular a site is, the higher Google places it in relevant search results. Therefore one way of getting more traffic to your site is to get it a higher position in Google’s search results by acquiring lots of links to it. And how can you do that? There are several possibilities:

  1. Write really useful and interesting articles that other people will eventually link to. Be patient.
  2. Submit your site to blog carnivals, thus getting free links that bring you targeted visitors.
  3. While you’re reading other people’s blogs, leave relevant and insightful comments on them, including your URL.
  4. Place random stupid comments on any blog or website you can find.

When I first started creating blogs myself, not so very long ago, I experimented with option (3). However, I quickly tired of it. Now I include my site URLs when I happen to comment on another blog, but since I don’t read many blogs, I don’t leave many comments. In any case, I’ve discovered that SEO is quite effective in itself; I use it all the time on my other blog, which I intend to eventually have a commerical focus. As for this one, I’m content to let it pick up visitors at its own pace, and now I usually see at least 30 visitors a day, which suits me fine for a site full of random stuff.

However, many people apparently feel that option (4) is the way to go, and I’ve collected some of the most annoying/hilarious comments here for your enjoyment.

Oddly enough these commenters seem to be undeterred by the fact that I manually approve comments before they appear on this site and nearly always consign the spam to the trash bin, or the fact that the comments on this blog are “nofollow”, meaning that Google will ignore them in any case. This makes me think that many of these spammers either don’t understand English, or else they are robots.

Spam or Not Spam?

Should you be in any doubt that these comments are indeed spam, feel free to paste them into Google. You can usually find many, many other blogs that the commenter has left the same comment on — either the exact same comment, or very minor elaborations of the exact same comment.

Also notice that none of them refer to anything specifically connected to the article they are commenting on; they are designed to be left on many web pages without alteration, as indeed they are.

Needless to say, all of these comments link to websites that appear to have been put up overnight in an attempt to sell some product or other.

But without further ado, here are just a few of the insightful and thoughtful comments that random spammers have left on my blogs recently.

The Hall of Spam

What a write!! Very informative also easy to understand. Looking for more such posts!! Do you have a myspace? I recommended it on digg. The only thing that it’s missing is a bit of new design. Anyway thank you for this blog.

What a great compliment. I suppose I did ought to redesign the site, especially since I’ve only just designed it.

“Oh my god! an amazing article dude. Thank you. However I am experiencing issue with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting identical rss problem? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

You might as well fuck with people’s heads while you’re spamming them!

Congratulations on possessing actually certainly one of one of the crucial sophisticated blogs Ive arrive throughout in a while! Its simply wonderful how much you’ll be capable of take into account away from a thing mainly merely due to how visually gorgeous it is. Youve place collectively an amazing weblog web site space –great graphics, films, layout. This is actually a should-see web site!

The flattery is laid on with a trowel, but the effect spoiled somewhat by the vast number of other websites that the same comment has been left on.

Now to my question: Does Chronic Diabetic Neuropathy pain qualify for Medicinal Marijuana use under MI rules?

On an article titled “Finally, a Straightforward Way of Making Money at Home?” Answer: I don’t care, I live in the Netherlands and I’m already stoned far too much as it is. OK, if you really have chronic pain of any kind, you damn well ought to be allowed a smoke now and then. But using this question to promote a web hosting advertising site??? Please!

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Short and to the point!

My mom is amazingly talented at composing. She has been hearing this her whole life long. She disregards all this. I’ve finally convinced her to start composing on the web-just for self-expression. Any concept of the best forum? She normally writes of her own experiences.How does one create a weblog? What is required to be done?

Did your “mom” really name you “buy spy camera”? An unusual choice of name for a child. I suggest she stays well clear of the web.

Heya, already been reading your blogging site for a long time. I manage a comparable blog page but I keep receiving a pile of spam comments, how can you maintain your blog page so clean?

By trashing comments like this one.

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This comment goes on in the same vein for many more lines. I think you get the idea.

Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back often!

Amazingly, the author feels the exact same way about hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands of other blogs. Seems a clear-cut case of pre-senile dementia. Or LSD intoxication?

You’ve to be tough as well naive not to get a point of view in this a single, this is truly a leading post from your additional post, thanks for this.

How true my friend, how true.

Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car

On an article about food additives. Relevant, or what?

I liked as much as you’ll receive carried out right here. The comic strip is tasteful, your authored subject matter stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an edginess over that you would like be handing over the following. sick for sure come further formerly again as precisely the same nearly a lot often inside case you protect this increase.

Comic strip? Where? I like how this one degenerates into a series of random words.

Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this website. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s hard to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness and appearance. I must say that you’ve done a great job with this. In addition, the blog loads extremely quick for me on Chrome. Exceptional Blog!

How kind of you to say so to me and 5000 other people, Mr. Bose Companion 5 Sale.

Your weblog seems astounding – complete with top quality content.. and so on. I believe you are going to get even greater achievement with including some far more video clips and photographs. What do you believe. Even though I’ve bookmarked it. Many thanks.

I believe you’re a spammer! Although of course this is all perfectly true.

Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your content seem to be running off the screen in Opera. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know. The design look great though! Hope you get the issue resolved soon. Many thanks

Why not waste lots of people’s time while you’re trying to sell notebook computers? Since I mostly designed the site in Opera and based it on a popular standard template to start with, no surprise that it has terrible issues like these …. oh God ….

I quite enjoy what you submit right here. Particularly insightful and intelligent. One concern though. I’m running Firefox with Debian and parts of your current web design pieces are a little wonky. I realize it’s not a popular set up. But it’s an issue to hold in the mind. I wish that it will probably help and keep the top rated quality writing.

Yeah, I worry a lot about people running Firefox with Debian. Although, judging by the number of identical comments left on other sites with variations of the same name, a lot of sites have this problem. Almost all sites seems to have it to some degree. Wait, unless …. you’re a spammer ….

hi, if you find and need information about penis enlargement or male enhancement products that are guarantee to work you can find here! are product is the best like vimax and vigrx plus is the popular and effective products to enhance your health.

Don’t want to boast, but that is one thing I am not in need of.

Great post. I simply loved this a lot that i posted a link to your web site in my web site: click on on my website to look at the backlink. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Extremely useful information specially the last half I care for such info a lot. I was looking for this particular information for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

Wonderfully non-specific in its specificity, and only left on a few hundred other blogs.

t is not simple, but i believe you just have to be objective about your self and recognize that occasionally when somebody is criticizing they’re only giving their opinion and not usually practicing points they preach.

Hard to disagree with that! And I’ve always wanted one of those “Forensic psychology masters degrees” you’re selling ….

Would you be interested in exchanging links?

No, Mr. Acne Remedies, I’m afraid not.

Maybe you will want to add a facebook button to your site. I just marked down the site, but I had to complete it by hand. Simply my 2 cents.

From a man called “Car Hire”. And there’s already a Facebook button on my site.

Hey there, great article. Excellent website. Its invigorating and applicative. The climacteric internal & external transitions are impeccable. I’m very awed with your writing. I would like to invite you to ghostwrite in your spare time.
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Wow that’s great! And I hear you only charge aspiring authors 45 dollars a month! What a bargain.

My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be what precisely I’m looking for. Do you offer guest writers to write content for yourself? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on a lot of the subjects you write concerning here. Again, awesome weblog!

Funny how many spammers talk about their spouses. And then witter on about guest writers.

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I’m not even totally sure what this one is advertising. Besides, I haven’t got any tape.

I love this blog. In fact I have been trying to commence one like this too, however I am not savvy enough on how to do it. What is this “WordPress” portal? Is it difficult? Is it required to be knowledgable in computers to create a blog? I am hoping to design a simple blog for my learn english writing related website. Can a blog be placed into a current website?

Why not ask for advice when you’re busy creating a website full of totally random extracts from publications long since out of copyright?

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It’s probably best not to leave the identical same comment on multiple completely different pages, especially not while calling yourself “Films Online”. Also you might want to check if the pages in question actually contain a theory or not.

Thanks for making the effort to describe the terminlogy towards the newbies!

This is one of the most common comments on the Internet, and appears on your pages regardless of their content. Hmm, maybe I should buy some of those sneakers he’s selling.

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Looks like your spamming software needs a little work! But at least I now have proof that I am being spammed by robots. Damn those robots!

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Again, very common. It could be genuine, but since the link sells headphones and since gazillions of similar comments use the same kind of language (awaiting upgrades, improvements, etc) , I don’t think so ….

hey there and thank you for your info – I have definitely picked up anything new from right here. I did however expertise a few technical issues using this site, since I experienced to reload the website many times previous to I could get it to load properly. I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I am complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will often affect your placement in google and can damage your high quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords. Anyway I’m adding this RSS to my e-mail and can look out for a lot more of your respective fascinating content. Ensure that you update this again very soon.

On an article entitled: Scientists Recreate Hitler’s Head From DNA, Attached to Body of Monkey. No doubt the author picked up a few new things alright. Unfortunately spelling and grammar weren’t among them. Fortunately I don’t give a fig about my Google placement, or I might have been worried — had this article not sprung up like fungus an a zillion other sites, selling the same rubbish.

I do enjoy the manner in which you have presented this particular challenge and it really does give us a lot of fodder for consideration. However, through everything that I have witnessed, I just simply hope as other remarks stack on that people today keep on issue and not start on a soap box regarding the news of the day. All the same, thank you for this outstanding piece and though I do not really go along with it in totality, I respect the standpoint.

On that article again, “Scientists Recreate Hitler’s Head From DNA, Attached to Body of Monkey”. Glad to hear the author respects my standpoint. Who wouldn’t?


Sadly I’ve lost a great comment I got recently, which was downright insulting (in a highly non-specific manner)! Well, you’ve tried flattery, you’ve tried fake insight … why not be obnoxious?

And once again, to anyone who has left a genuine comment on my site, thanks! Hope I didn’t confuse you with a spammer ….

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The Hungarian Alphabet: Pronouncing Hungarian Vowels

Posted by – April 4, 2011

BudapestFor an English speaker, Hungarian pronunciation presents few real difficulties. While no-one pronounces a foreign language perfectly without a huge amount of practice, neverthless Hungarian sounds are broadly similar to English sounds. At least it’s fair to say that there are no sounds in Hungarian that take months to even begin to produce. Basic Hungarian pronunciation is largely a matter of remembering which sound is which.

Even when it comes to sounds that occur in Hungarian but not at all in English, the same sounds often occur “unnofficially” in English — especially by children who have not yet fully got into the habit of restricting the range of sounds they use (probably Hungarians would say the same about English!).

There’s a lot to remember here, but concentrate on understanding how to pronounce Hungarian vowels, practise pronouncing some Hungarian words and refer to this page in future when you need to, and in a little time you’ll produce perfectly understandable Hungarian. Once you’ve mastered the Hungarian vowels, Hungarian word pronunciation will come to you fairly easily.

Fun Hungarian Course with Lots of Free Videos

Long Vowels and Short Vowels in English and Hungarian

In English, we actually have long vowels and short vowels if you think about it. For instance, the e in met is pronounced very quickly; it’s a short vowel. But try saying meet. The ee here is pronounced somewhat longer, more drawn out. It’s a long vowel.

The vowel sounds in met and meet are in fact not merely different lengths, but different sounds altogether. Nevertheless, you can easily imagine pronouncing meet with a short ee instead of a long ee as is usual. The resulting word sounds like a bit like across between “meet” and “mit”. Non-native English speakers who say the word meet often shorten the ee so that it sounds exactly like this. Try saying meet quickly (just as quickly as you’d say “hit”), and you’ll see what I mean.

Hungarian also has long and short vowels, but the difference between the two in Hungarian is more pronounced than in English. Long vowels take about twice as long to say as short vowels, although Hungarians occasionally seem to stretch them out even longer in everyday speech.

Let’s get started by looking at the vowels in Hungarian.

Easy Hungarian Vowels

First, the easy ones. The explanations here are all a lot more complicated than the sound itself, so if you find yourself straining your brain, you’re thinking too much! None of these vowels are remotely hard to pronounce for an English speaker.

The vowels in this table are all ‘short’ (said quickly like the vowels in hit or got). None of them are difficult to pronounce.

Letter Guide to Pronunciation Example
e Like e in bet nem (no)
i A lot like ee in meet, but said quickly like the i in hit. kis (small; the ‘s’ is pronounced like English ‘sh’)
u Like oo in boot, but said more quickly to keep it short. busz (bus; the ‘sz’ here is pronounced like English ‘s’)
a Like a cross between English a in can and English o in hot. nap (‘day’ or ‘sun’)
o A lot like the o in force, which if you think about it sounds a bit like au in caught — but remember to keep it short. Notice that if you prounced o in an English way like in “hot”, you’d risk confusion with the Hungarian “a” sound (see above). bor (wine)

Phew — that wasn’t so bad, was it? Although learning letter sounds is possibly the most tedious aspect of learning a new language, your future success rests on you being able to figure out how to pronounce words — so it’s important to get a firm grasp of Hungarian sounds before you proceed further. We’ve got a few more vowels to get through, but first make sure you can remember what you’ve just learned — otherwise you’ll get horribly confused.

Slightly More Difficult Short Hungarian Vowels

So far we’ve looked at the Hungarian pronunciation of all the vowels in the English alphabet — namely, a, e, i, o and u. When written without accents in Hungarian, all of these vowels are pronounced “short” — that is, they are said fairly quickly, like the vowels in English words like “hot”, “cat” and “wit”.

Now let’s look at two marginally more difficult Hungarian vowels. These two are both still short vowels but they have sounds that are a little more unusual from an English point of view. They both carry umlaut accents: ö and ü.

Both of these letters are pronounced with the lips rounded into a tight O, as if you’re trying to whistle.

  • ö is pronounced a bit like u in hurt or e in errrr (an expression of hesitation or disgust in English), except that your lips must be rounded as if to whistle. Example: köszönöm (which means “thankyou”; sz is pronounced like English ‘s’).

    If you make the e sound in let, but round your lips to whistle, you’ll get it.

  • ü doesn’t occur in English, but it doesn’t sound too far from the sort of sound an English person might make under trying circumstances, for instance when getting off a roller coaster and experiencing a sudden sickening lurch in your stomach. Try saying the ee in meet but with rounded lips, as if to whistle. Example: süt (means: “shine”). Remember to keep the sound short. A similar sound occurs in German, with the same symbol (ü).

You can see that ö and ü are related to each other. They are both short sounds produced by rounding the lips. For ö say “e” from “let” in the back of your mouth; for ü say “ee” from “meet”, but short.

Once you’ve got the hang of these tricky two vowels, you’ve seen the worst that Hungarian pronunciation has to throw at the English speaker. It remains only to deal with the long vowels, which not tricky at all if you’ve mastered the short vowels.

Long Hungarian Vowels

Long Hungarian vowels take around twice as long to say as short ones. If this sounds odd, remember that we also have short and long vowels in English. In English, an extra vowel is typically added to a vowel to make it long. For instance, the English word met is pronounced with a short e. But if we add an a or another e to the first e, we get meat and meet, both of which contain a long ee sound.

As you can see from the following table, all Hungarian vowels that have accents (with the except of the umlaut vowels ö and ü) are pronounced long. All vowels without accents (or with umlauts) are pronounced short.

Letter Guide to Pronunciation Example
é Long e; sounds a bit like a cross between the ee in meet and the long a in father kép (image or picture)
í Long i; sounds a lot like the ee in meet víz (water)
ő Long ö. Sounds the same but longer. Notice that it’s as if the two dots of the umlaut over ö have been lengthened into the two dashes of ő. főz (to cook)
ű Long ü. Sounds the same but longer. Notice that it’s as if the two dots of the umlaut over ü have been lengthened into the two dashes of ű. bűz (a stink or bad smell)
á Long version of a. Like the a in cat but longer. Note: this isn’t precisely a long version of Hungarian a. The sound changes quite a bit. mák (poppy)
ó Long version of o. Sounds a bit like the au in caught. kór (disease)
ú Long version of u. Sounds like oo in cool. lúd (goose)

That’s it! The most difficult aspect of learning the Hungarian language is over and done with.


Some Notes

There are a couple of things about Hungarian vowel pronunciation that the English speaker should be particularly wary of, speaking from experience.

Always remember that ‘a’ (with no accent) is much more like an English ‘o’ than ‘a’. A good word to remember is csak (only), which is pronounced sort of halfway between ‘chak’ and ‘choc’ (maybe you’ve seen the excellent Hungarian romantic comedy, Csak Szex és Más Semmi — Only Sex and Nothing Else; if not, you should see it, it’s very funny). It’s easy to forget and start pronouncing ‘a’ like in English ‘cat’. Don’t! You won’t be understood.

If you’re an English speaker, you’ll interject y’s into everything without even realising it. Watch out! We can’t understand why Italians have to add ‘o’ or ‘e’ to the end of everything, but we English speakers are just as bad with our y’s. Take for instance the word Budai (meaning, ‘of Buda’ or ‘from Buda’ — Buda is one of the three towns that made up Budapest). An English speaker will say “Boodaiy”. Try saying it very slowly; Bood-o-ee. Don’t add that y onto the end. The same thing happens with words like “hét” (seven). We tend to say something like “heeyt”. Don’t! There’s only one vowel sound there; your mouth stays in only one position during the middle sound of this word. Stay off the y!

I always think of the English Yorkshire accent (not much help if you don’t know English accents — but see the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch for an example). Most English-speaking people, including Americans, will say for instance “newspayper”. In Yorkshire, England, they say “newspaaper”, where the ‘aa’ is a pure vowel sound without the y. The same trick works for other non-English languages; none of them as far as I know have that extra y sound in there.

Copyright © 2011 John W. Purcell

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SEO Basics: Using Google Analytics With WordPress to Track Your Website Stats

Posted by – April 1, 2011

If you’re trying to increase your blog or website’s search-engine traffic, you need to do two things. Firstly, apply SEO techniques to draw visitors to your blog. Secondly, use a good traffic analysis program to see where your visitors are coming from and what they’re searching for.

Viewing detailed stats on your website visitors can really help you to target your articles correctly. You can also use a good stats program to judge how successful your various attempts at promotion have been. A good stats program lets you answer questions like:

  • How many visitors have come to my site through search engines?
  • How many visitors have bookmarked my site or memorized my URL?
  • What countries do my visitors come from?
  • What websites are referring visitors to my site?
  • What key phrases are my website visitors searching for in Google?
  • What browsers do my visitors use?

Google Analytics — The Free Solution

Since a good stats analysis program provides you with so much information, you might expect you’d have to pay top dollar for such a piece of software. Fortunately that’s not the case; Google Analytics is in fact free and provides you with a huge array of interesting stats for your website via an easy-to-use interface.

So how you do set up Google Analytics to work with your website? I’ll assume here that you’re using WordPress, the free blogging platform. However, don’t worry if you’re not using WordPress; I’ll also explain how to add Google Analytics to any website.

Getting Started With Google Analytics

The first thing to do is go to Google Analytics and create a free account, if you haven’t got one already. Once you’ve got an account, click the big “Access Analytics” button and you’ll see a screen rather like the following.

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge


You can see I’ve already got two websites set up in Analytics; one of them had 506 visitors in March, the other (a site I’ve just created), only 46 visitors.

Let’s go ahead and add another blog to Google Analytics. Click Add Website Profile and fill in the details on the new screen. Click Finish.

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge

We now see a screen that looks like the following:

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge

You can see some cryptic-looking computer code in a box underneath where it says Paste this code on your site.

If you’re not using WordPress, you need to copy this code with your mouse (select everything in the box, right-click and click “copy”). You need to paste this code into every page that you want to track, before the closing </head> tag in your page. Usually your website will have a header that’s copied into every page, so you’ll most often only need to edit one file.

However, if you are using WordPress, there’s an easy and elegant way of accomplishing the same thing. Look at the string of letters and numbers (beginning with UA) to the right of where it says Web Property ID. Copy this code. The code will be something like UA-87685123-4, for example. You can also find this code embedded somewhere in the stuff you see in the text box mentioned above.

Now log into WordPress, click Plugins and click the Add new button. In the search box that appears, enter “Google Analyticator” and click “search”. Google Analyticator is a WordPress plugin that simplifies the business of adding Google Analytics to your site.

Wordpress

Click to enlarge

Once you’ve found the Google Analyticator plugin, click Install now. Then click Activate plugin. WordPress will now return you to the list of plugins.

Wordpress

Click to enlarge

You’ll see that next to Google Analyticator is a settings link. Click this to go to the screen where you can connect your Analyticator plugin to your new Google Analytics account.

Wordpress

Click to enlarge

Here there is a text box where you can enter your Google Analytics UID; you need to paste in the UA-XXXXXXXX-XX code that you copied earlier.

Wordpress

Click to enlarge

Make sure Google Analytics logging is set to enabled. Also it’s a very good idea to make sure that Track all logged in WordPress users is set to “No” and set User roles to not track to at least Administrator. This helps to reduce spurious stats due to you visiting the site yourself.

Finally click save changes right at the bottom of the screen.

We’re almost done. Now we can go back to the Google Analytics page we were working on earlier. Click Save and finish. Typically you’ll see that your new site has been added, but there’s a nasty-looking yellow warning triangle under the Status column in the table of websites being tracked.

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge

No problem. Click edit by the profile of your newly-added website. On the screen that appears, click check status.

Google Analytics

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Now, assuming everything’s working, Google Analytics will say “Analytics has been successfully installed and is gathering data”. All you have to do now is wait for people to visit your site …

Google Analytics

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Some Tips and Tricks With Google Analytics

Google Analytics is really geared towards viewing your stats on a day-by-day basis, not hour-by-hour. So you can’t rely on the data it reports being up-to-date; you can only rely on data prior to today. In fact, it won’t report intraday data to you by default. Fortunately it’s easy to get this data, and most of the time it appears to be pretty up-to-date.

Go to your website report in Google Analytics (click View report) and bring up the calendar drop-down by clicking next to the date in the upper-right-hand corner. Click today’s date and click apply.

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge

Now you can see today’s stats (which will likely be zero if you’ve just set up your site in Analytics following these instructions).

Google Analytics

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Another good idea is to further filter yourself out of your own website stats by setting up a filter. This will only work if your IP address remains the same every day; this depends upon your ISP. You can use the site below to check your IP address; keep an eye on it — if it’s always the same, you can use it to filter yourself out of your website stats.

Go to a site like What’s My IP and make a note of your IP address. It will be something like 192.123.4.12. In Google Analytics, click the logo in the upper-left-hand corner to go to the Analytics home page. At the bottom of this page, click Filter Manager.

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge

Click Add Filter.

Google Analytics

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In the screen that appears, select Exclude, traffic from the IP addresses, that are equal to. Enter your IP address in the IP address text boxes. Under Apply filter to website profile, select your new website and click add. Now click save changes and we’re done!

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge

Using Google Analytics

Once you start using Google Analytics, you’re liable to get addicted to it. This is especially true if you’re carrying out an SEO campaign to increase your traffic, regularly writing articles around key search phrases. You’ll want to select today’s date as above, so you can see the new visitors coming in to your site.

When you go to your site report in Google Analytics, you’ll see a page like this (once you’ve got some traffic!).

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge

In the menu on the top left, you can see various useful links. Click visitors to see who’s been visiting your site. Keep an eye on the date — by default it displays a whole month of data not including today, so you need to follow the steps above if you want to see today’s stats or a different time period.

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge

You can see all kinds of interesting stats about your visitors by clicking on the links that appear in the menu when you go to the visitors page. For instance, map overlay shows you a map of where your visitors come from. You can even find out what towns your visitors are from. Scary!

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge

Clicking Traffic source will show you how your visitors find your site, including what phrases they are searching for in Google.

Google Analytics

Click to enlarge

Basically you can have hours of fun and figure out how to bump up your stats in the process. Enjoy!

A Note On “Bounce Rate” and “Time On Site”

There’s one thing I must mention here, since it confused the hell out of me when I first started using Google Analytics and it probably means you will underestimate the level of interest among your visitors if you don’t know about it.

Google Analytics has a statistic called “Time On Site” in the visitors section. However, the only way Analytics can know how long a visitor spent on a page is if that visitor clicks another page afterwards. Google Analytics can only measure the time between successive clicks. This could lead to you overestimating how long a visitor has spent on a page, since the visitor might load a page from your site, go away and do some shopping, come back to his browser and then click another link, leading to a massive overestimate for the amount of time he spent reading your page.

More common however, is the situation where a visitor loads a page, then closes the page without looking at any other pages on your site. How often do you search for something, click on a page, read it and then close the page when you’ve finished? For me I’d say this is what I do most of the time on the Internet. This is called a “bounce”; you’ve “bounced” off the site instead of delving into it. Google Analytics records this behavior as a “bounce”, with zero time spent on the site — even though the visitor may well have read your page thoroughly and possibly even have bookmarked it or emailed it to his friends.

So if you see a high bounce rate in your site statistics coupled with a low average time spent on your site, don’t be too disheartened, since this statistic has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

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