Funding Envy, Not Physics Envy

Dave over at The World’s Fair is asking a few questions about interdisciplinary envy. Do biologists wish they were physicists? Or do physicists dream of biology? And what about archaeologists?

1. What’s your current scientific specialty?

I’m an archaeologist specialising in Scandinavian Prehistory, mainly the 1st Millennium AD.

2. Were you originally pursuing a different academic course?

Nope, I’ve concentrated on this subject since day one at the University of Stockholm back in 1990 when I was 18. I chose between archaeology and astronomy, but went for the field where I could dive straight into the source material without studying a lot of maths and physics first. Incidentally, the two fields that interested me (basically fantasy vs. science fiction, you know) are among the least practically useful ones known to humankind.

3. Do you happen to wish you were involved in another scientific field?

Yes and no. I wish I were involved in a well-funded field where there was a demand for my skills and knowledge. On the other hand, I also wish that Scandinavian prehistoric archaeology were such a field. Lovely discipline, crap labour market. But that, Dear Reader, you already know if you’ve followed my scribblings for any length of time.

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Book-On-Demand at the Tobacconist’s


Lately I have come to think of books as computer devices, combining the functions of screen and backup medium. All texts these days are written and type-set on computers, so the paper thingy has long been a secondary manifestation of the text. People like publisher Jason Epstein and book blogger the Grumpy Old Bookman have predicted that we will soon have our books made on demand at any store that may today have a machine for making photographic prints. The texts will reside on the net, on our USB memory sticks or on our handheld computers/cell phones. The paper output/backup-storage device we call “a book” will be produced swiftly in the store by a dedicated machine.

The first of these contraptions, seen in the above pic, is now available Monday through Saturday from 1-5 p.m. at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL).

The book-on-demand approach can be seen as the opposite of bibliophilia. It’s for readers who value the text and simple illustrations but who think little of the book as fetish or objet d’art. Really, it’s just a logical progression from the paperback book: cheap, light-weight, somewhat ephemeral. The machines might make these books already equipped with a BookCrossing identity.

Another interesting aspect is that these machines will cut out the middle man — that is, the publisher. The machine won’t care if the pdf file I send it has been shunted through a publishing house, if I picked it up from an amateur novelist’s web site or if it’s a long out-of-print thing that I found on Google Book Search. Freedom, wider selection, de-professionalisation and another failed business model!

(Pic from Make.)

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Book Review: Moore, The Swap

i-72ce397c28b53608c09a9ff741f51db6-swap.jpgAntony Moore’s novel The Swap is set in southern England in 2006 and revolves around a school reunion of people born in 1970. It’s a murder mystery and a love story, a humorous tale about being startled out of complacency and boredom by unexpected events, about letting go of your past and moving on. It’s quite engrossing but should carry a prominent warning sticker: This Book Has an Infuriatingly Open Ending.

Moore, Antony. 2007. The Swap. London: Harvill Secker. 278 pp. ISBN 978-1-8465-5070-6.

Brief Mountain Summer

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Spent Monday through Wednesday on a trip to Lake Grövelsjön in the mountainous northwesternmost corner of Dalecarlia province. The lake is sausage-shaped with one end in Sweden and the other in Norway. On Tuesday my wife and I hiked around it, a walk of 25-30 km involving the ascent and descent of 250 m heights — twice, as we touched down to the valley floor at the far end of the lake. Most of the time we were above the treeline at about 980 m over sea level.
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Tangled Bank 83

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Welcome to Aardvarchaeology and the 83rd Tangled Bank blog carnival! This is the blog where all of science — natural, social and historical — is just seen as one big bunch of adjunct disciplines to the study of societies of the past. “What about medicine?”, I hear you ask. It is very good for prolonging the working lives of archaeologists. “Physics?” We do need dating methods, you know. “Zoology?” Help us classify faunal remains and reconstruct ancient economy. “Astronomy?” It’ll get us to distant inhabited planets with interesting material culture.

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The Metamorphosis of Restaurant Island

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The area where I grew up once belonged to the village of Neglinge, a group of small holdings on the inner margin of the Stockholm archipelago. The nearby inlet was briefly used as a harbour by a foreign fleet in the High Middle ages, but apart from that, Neglinge didn’t really make the news until the 1890s. A Stockholm banker, Knut Agaton Wallenberg (whose family still rules the Swedish economy), bought the area in 1891 and turned it into a summer resort for his rich friends: Saltsjöbaden. He had a great big hotel and restaurant built at the sea, funded a railroad there and laid out plots where people built huge summer villas in an 1890s New England style, highly ornate and often with pinecone shinglework on the facades.
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