Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


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Before we had the euro…

Currently there are 17 countries in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) commonly called the eurozone. image001

These are the currencies they used prior to that:

Austria – Austrian schilling
Belgium – Belgian franc
The Netherlands – Dutch gulden
Finland – Finnish markka
France – French franc
Germany – German mark
Ireland – Irish pound
Italy – Italian lira
Luxembourg – Luxembourg franc
Portugal – Portuguese escudo
Spain – Spanish peseta
Greece – Greek drachma
Slovenia – Slovenian tolar
Cyprus – Cypriot pound
Malta – Maltese lira
Slovakia – Slovak koruna

The last to join and the first Baltic country was Estonia – Estonian kroon

There are 10 countries in the EU which are not members of the EMU

These are:

  • Bulgaria – lek
  • Czech Republic – koruna
  • Denmark – krone
  • Hungary – forint
  • Latvia – lats
  • Lithuania – litas
  • Poland – zloty
  • Romania – leu
  • Sweden – krona
  • and the UK – pound sterling

Croatia is the next country due to join the EU and it currently has the kuna. Many of these older currency names come from the latin word corona which means crown.

DSC00644If any country dropped out of the EMU, Cyprus for example or even Germany (for different reasons), and reverted back to its old currency it would, apart from any economic problems, be more inconvenient for travellers.

On the other hand wasn’t it more interesting and a little bit exotic in the old days when coins were more varied in shape and size and something kids loved to collect?


Deutsch not so uber any more

German language lessons are a lot less popular than they were 5 years ago.

According to a report in the Times schools across Europe are turning to English and Spanish which are seen as more useful languages.

German has always been less popular in southern Europe but in neighbouring Poland, Denmark, and Netherlands there has been a dramatic decline.

In Poland only about half of secondary school pupils studied it last year compared with three-quarters of them in 2005. In Netherlands the percentage has fallen by half from 86% to 444% and in Denmark from a half to a third of pupils over the same period.

In contrast English is taught in over 90% of European schools and in all schools in Sweden, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic.

Strangely in Norway English teaching has dropped by over half from 100% in 2005 to 43% last year, whereas Luxembourg is the only European country where German teaching has been on the increase since 2005.

Romania and Luxembourg are the only European countries where over 80% of pupils learn French.

The Goethe German language institute says that there is an increased demand from adults around the world for learning German, particularly in Spain,Greece , and India, where it is seen as way of improving employability.


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Are you flourishing?

Happiness is over-rated according to Martin Seligman, the grandfather of positive psychology. This might be a bit of a shock as his book “Authentic Happiness” was influential in persuading influential people that the government should start measuring happiness and well-being.

In his latest book “Flourish” he says he got it wrong promoting happiness as it was only concerned with life satisfaction and how cheerful you were. He thinks well-being is more meaningful as it is more measurable.

As it happens researchers at the Well-being Institute at Cambridge University have defined and measured flourishing across the EU. They found that Denmark leads Europe with 33% of its citizens flourishing, nearly twice as many as in the UK.

Denmark was previously recognised as having the most people satisfied with life in a 2006 Wikipedia survey (in which we came 41st out of 89 countries!)


Electronic tagging – the Facebook way

Facebook has done it again. Imposed new technology without asking you. This time it’s software which automatically identifies faces in your photographs starting with all your “friends”.

And you can only untag them after they have been published online. Another example of reducing your privacy by default but that’s par for the course for Zuckerberg.

He believes everything should be out in the open except his own info – you can’t “friend” him. And he clearly believes it’s easier to seek forgiveness than seek permission.

Zuckerberg relies on consumer inertia ie people can’t be bothered to change or cancel things, and using “opt out” processes rather than an “opt in” one that privacy campaigners say Facebook should offer.

I never though I would find anything good to say about the EU bureaucrats but their regulators on the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party are apparently going to investigate.

There are other pieces of software that do the same thing. Apple offers a similar service in iPhoto but there you have to choose the faces you want recognising and then confirm each name tag and it’s not an on-line service.

This is the reason I don’t like Facebook. They ask you for your data and then they own you. I have a choice on Linkedin and Twitter doesn’t ask for any personal details but Zuckerberg wants everything about you put online.

Some might say more fool you for having an account in the first place.

The Sunday Times did a big piece on this yesterday (12/6/11) and revealed that Google has filed a patent application for face recognition software to help identify celebrities. It could theoretically be used to identify anyone by scanning social networking sites for matches.

Before you know it those strangers with the camera phones have your identification and whatever you have chosen to put in the public domain in their possession.

Marketers, advertisers, sales people, and criminals would all have the information they need to target you.

And there is also a system of mass observation which uses video cameras to monitor people in public areas. At present it is not used for identifying individuals but the company plans to install face recognition software as the next step.

The UK is apparently the countries with the most CCTV cameras per head of population and we have car numberplate recognition software already on major motorways and roads. How much more Orwellian can we get?


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Cornish pasties get protected status

Cornish pasties have now got protected status under the EU Protected Geographical Indication rules which lay down the composition and appearance of this working man’s delicacy. So, just like Cornish clotted cream, Cornish pasties can only be made in Cornwall.

There are 40 or so British food products similarly protected but we are way behind the French and Italians in this regard.

It is estimated that 87 million pasties are produced every year. From mid-March, when their protected status comes into force, they must have fillings of beef, potato, onions and swede, a light seasoning and no additives or preservatives. They are cooked in a semi-circular shape with a crimped edge and glazed with milk or eggs to give it that golden brown colour.

The pasty was ideal for the miners as it was a self-contained meal which they could easily carry. There are claims that they have found remains of them in caves going back 8,000 years but there is a 16c reference to them being served with claret at a civic banquet.

Some people claim they originated in the middle east and were brought to Cornwall by traders and pirates and this is where it gets interesting for me. I regularly visit Lithuania and I took a colleague in 2006 and we decided to visit Trakai. Trakai was the HQ of Grand Duke Vytautas in the 14c and where he built castles amongst the five lakes, one of which survives today (having been protected during soviet times by the local soviet commissar who actually tried to renovate it).

The Grand Duke brought a group of Karaites to Lithuania to act as his bodyguard and they settled in Trakai where they maintained their own community and language. They were probably from the Crimea but originated in Mesopotomia (now Iraq) and their religion was a mixture of judaism, christianity and possibly islam. They built a Kenesa, a Persian or Karaite synagogue, which is still there and one of the few surviving in Europe (the Nazis couldn’t decide whether or not they were jewish but they still had a hard time of it).

We were told we had to try a traditional Karaites dish called a Kibinas. So we found a cafe by the lake, ordered our Švyturis beer and kibinai. When it came it was delicious, a hot pastry filled with chopped meat and onions with a glazed finish, in a semi-circle with a crimped edge.

So a Cornish pasty? Check out the picture and make up your own mind where they originated.

Updated 15 March 2011: OK now I’ve tried the kibinai in Vilnius and I have to say they were delicious with a choice of fillings. I had chicken and beef, my colleague had chicken and spinach. And today in Rimi (like Asda) we had them again in the cafeteria with freshly squeezed orange juice for less than a pound. A few years ago we could only find them at Trakai and at the airport cafe. Then they modernised the airport and the homely cafe closed so it was a bit too far to pop down to Trakai for one. So it’s good the Kybinini has opened to offer these Mesopotomian cornish pasties.


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EU in a stew over Hungary

Hungary has just taken over the presidency of the EU for the next six months and already its hard-line Prime Minister has been criticised for introducing legislation seen as undemocratic – such as giving his government control over the media to maintain “balance”.

The German socialists are particularly unhappy with Mr Orban because of this and the European Commission is investigating it. The leader of the German Greens said Oban didn’t understand that the EU was; “born in a struggle against totalitarianism and liberty is freedom of expression”. The Hungarian Prime Minister, who opposed Soviet rule in Hungary, was unimpressed at being criticised by Germany.

Hungary marked the start of their presidency by sending over a huge (210 sq m)  carpet to be laid in the atrium of the Council of Europe’s HQ.The design depicts an historical timeline and shows Kings, artists, composers, scientists, and inventions like the ballpoint pen (invented by Lazlo Biro).

Unfortunately an 1848 map in the middle of the carpet shows Hungary as it was when it ruled over Slovakia, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Transylvania, and Romania (reflected in the old coat of arms).

This didn’t go down too well and an Austrian MEP even claimed that Hungary wanted to overthrow the 1920 Treaty of Trianon which forced it to give up 2/3 of its empire at the end of WWI.

Mr Orban’s government is popular – it was elected by a 2/3 majority –  and apparently many Hungarians have car stickers showing Greater Hungary. Hungary also upset its neighbours by offering citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in other countries.

Hungary is not alone in wishing to turn back the clock. Relations between Poland and Lithuania are strained. Poland supported Lithuania in the 1991 revolution but now Lithuanians are annoyed that Polish tourists in the capital Vilnius often refer to it as their capital Wilno and complain when locals don’t speak to them in Polish (the older generations tend to speak Russian as their second language  whilst the younger ones speak English) and that Lithuanian buses now have to have signs in Polish. On the other hand Poland complains that Lithuania is not offering Polish lessons in schools – which Lithuania categorically denies.

I have heard Russian tourists in Vilnius complain that it is full of Poles and some Poles still consider Lviv in Ukraine to be theirs too so it’s not always so friendly in post-soviet countries.

Hungarians are not unused to controversy and getting round the rules. In the 1940s the Russians set up Comecon (Council for mutual economic assistance) to coordinate economic relations across the soviet bloc and to centrally plan production. So each country was told what it could produce and what it couldn’t. Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania were allowed to make cars but Hungary was forbidden to. Although it had no existing car industry having a national vehicle was considered a symbol of patriotism in eastern Europe.

So Hungary found a solution using a Magyar speciality known as the “little gate” or kiskapu. When one door closes another opens, especially if lubricated by money. So under communism if X was forbidden but something similar to X but not actually the same thing was permitted – because it wasn’t banned. So Hungary produced a microcar: an enclosed vehicle with a petrol engine, steering wheel and gears, but which wasn’t an actual car because it was too small. And because it wasn’t a car to reverse it you had to stop the engine and start it again in reverse.

The cars were launched at the May Day Parade in1956 to great acclaim. Soon private inventors and engineers were designing a range of Magyar microcars; one was so small with a 50cc engine it was called the “motorised shoe”. One car was sponsored by the Ministry of Light Industry but unknown to the Ministry of Heavy Industry. One car had a body made from chicken feathers, pigs’ blood and shellac. Motorbike engines of different sizes were used and some could reach speeds of 80 kph.