Time Travel Story

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Alvin Gavel just graduated from high school. (He’s the son of Aard regular Kai who keeps the bilingual Pointless Anecdotes blog.) This young man has to my knowledge grown up entirely in Sweden. But I would be impressed by his recent time travel story even if English had been his first language. Check it out!

Update 12 June: Mr. Gavel informs me that he wrote the story already two years ago. It is the work of a high school freshman. In reply I have told Mr. Gavel that, in my opinion, it is his duty to contribute generously to the gene pool.

Thanks to Alvin for permission to publish his work. His equally brilliant sister doesn’t need my help to get her stuff on-line: she’s got a blog of her own.
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Tech Note: Flash Memory Random Remix

The micro-SD flash memory chip that came with my new smartphone has some interesting issues with data integrity. I mostly use it to store sound files in the mp3 format, both pop songs of a few MB each and podcasts taking up tens of megabytes. And while listening to podcasts, in the middle of them, I have repeatedly come across three interesting and disturbing errors. The flash memory makes psychedelic remixes of my sound files!

  1. As I listen to one mp3 file, I suddenly hear several seconds from another file before the original recording resumes.
  2. As I listen to one mp3 file, I suddenly hear several seconds from a deleted file before the original recording resumes.
  3. As I listen to an mp3 file, the audio suddenly becomes pitched down to a barely comprehensible guttural grunt for tens of seconds.

These changes to the original files are permanent and always recur in the same way. With audio files, it’s mainly just a nuisance. But there was GPS map data delivered on that chip too. I don’t think it would be very useful after spontaneous random remix with snippets of mp3 audio.

Egypt Criminalises Female Genital Mutilation

Good news from Egypt: the country’s parliament has passed a new child protection law that, among other wise measures, criminalises female genital mutilation and raises the legal age of marriage to 18 for both men and women. Daily News of Egypt has a long article on the subject (from back when it was still a bill with an uncertain future).

Bayoumi … says that beating hurts children physically and emotionally. The Prophet Mohamed, he added, called for a kind of reprimand that does not inflict harm or cause psychological damage.

In agreement, Refaat El Saied said that some would say they will beat their children in spite of the law. “I tell them ‘beat them so they would become retarded as you.'”

Unfortunately, male genital mutilation is still legal in Egypt too.

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Book Review: Greenblatt, Will in the World

i-2e765ec8067efe7874c94bf272f0285f-shakespeare.jpgI’m not a very frequent theatre-goer, and if I don’t like a play, I leave in the intermission. But I have had the good fortune to see some excellent productions through the years, notably of Shakespeare. (It is of course entirely possible to play Shakespeare poorly too, and I’ve seen it done both by professionals and by amateurs.) I haven’t seen all his plays, and I’ve read only two, but dangle an opportunity to conveniently see more in front of me, and chances are I’ll bite.

During my recent Orkney jaunt, I read a fascinating biography of William Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt’s best-selling Will in the World (2004). This is, according to a Sunday Times reviewer, “the best one-volume life of Shakespeare yet”. As I would not be terribly interested in reading a multi-volume one, that was all I needed to know.

Greenblatt (born in 1943) is a professor of literature at Harvard and the founder of a school of thought in his discipline: “new historicism”. This is a post-modernist perspective centred on the “mutual permeability of the literary and the historical”: literary representation influencing the world it represents. Greenblatt is interested in “the relation between literature and history, the process through which certain remarkable works of art are at once embedded in a highly specific life-world and seem to pull free of that life-world”. He is, however, no epistemological relativist. His method in Will in the World is to paint a rich and solid historical background to Shakespeare’s life and professional activity, one where the content of the man’s own works does not actually occupy much space. This suits me well, being more of an historical than a lit’ry bent.

The book is quite fascinating. Its subtitle, “How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare”, is only partly accurate. Greenblatt devotes much space to the two brief decades when Shakespeare was busy being Shakespeare. We are treated to twelve thematic chapters, roughly chronological but nonetheless overlapping and all possible to read as stand-alone essays. They cover themes such as Shakespeare’s cultural and social background, including earlier English forms of drama; the relationship between Catholicism, Protestantism, Reformation, Counter-Reformation and royal power in the playwright’s day; Shakespeare’s views of marriage in general and his own unhappy one in particular; early contact with the hard-living University Wits circle (including Marlowe); and the influence of James I’s obsession with witchcraft on the writing of Macbeth.

Apart from introductory essays and notes to plays I’ve read, the only piece of (popular) Shakespeare scholarship I’ve read before was J. Dover Wilson’s likewise enjoyable What Happens in Hamlet (1951). If Greenblatt’s book is anything to go by, there is much to savour in the literature about Will, the genial genius.

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Orkney Field Trip

After yesterday’s paper session and civic reception in the church hall, I’ve had an amazing bus excursion today. The weather’s been perfect, sunny and with little wind, and I’ve been shown great sites by some very knowledgeable people. And the landscape… Unbelievable.

Brough/broch is a Norse loan word around here, corresponding to Swedish borg. As in older Swedish, this word has two meanings in Orcadian place names: either a high headland or promontory on the coast, or ancient fortifications — perhaps on a high headland. And today I’ve visited three such sites, the Broughs of Deerness, Gurness and Birsay, all with spectacular architectural remains from the centuries either side of AD 1000. I have some pretty amazing pictures to show you guys. We also checked out the early churchyard of Newark (!) where dead people are eroding out of the scarp toward the sea at a steady pace.

There is a conflict at Newark with an earlier excavator who hasn’t made his results publically available. At Birsay, the people who never wrote up their digs are all dead. (So was a porpoise that was lying around on the beach pebbles in a narrow cove.) As I learned during my work with the Barshalder cemetery, a good archaeologist is a dead archaeologist. Only then can you get hold of their material.

Shoreline erosion is a constant theme for archaeology here in Orkney. It seems they should actually do something similar to a highway excavation project all around each island, clearing the 50 meters closest to the sea from archaeological remains. This would of course be extremely expensive. But the richness of the archaeological record is astounding. On the way back we drove past Stenness with the henges of Ring o’ Brodgar and Stones of Stenness and the passage tomb of Maeshowe. Being Viking/Medieval scholars, we didn’t stop to look closer at the sites this time.

I’m in the nice new library and archive centre, and the post-field-trip dinner is in 20 minutes. Gotta go!

Orkney Food

I’m in the Bangladeshi restaurant Dil Se having a nice chicken achari. I tried to get Orkney mutton, but it was only available on advance order. Seems fitting to have a curry even in this storm-swept outpost of the British Empire. I started my dinner with a cold steak & gravy pie (from Hawthorn Bakery, Shotts, Scotland) on the cliffs above Scapa bay, whither I had taken a lovely sunny walk after the day’s sessions. But there was still room for a curry.

My surname means “round twig”. One of the conventioneers was of the opinion that this name fits me. I guess all the cycling and walking and marital bliss tends to cancel out the stuff I eat. Boom shaka laka.

My B&B, Eastbank House, serves remarkable breakfasts. This morning I had smoked haddock with poached eggs, grated cheese and toast. The remaining dish on the breakfast menu, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, is too familiar (if not at that time of day), so tomorrow I’ll ask for the full English again.

Oh, the paper sessions? Better overall than yesterday, more meaty and empirical. Orkney, Shetland, Faeroes, Iceland — and cool new sites from the Finnish archipelago. Birka veteran Mary MacLeod practiced her Swedish on me! She’s currently doing contract archaeology in the Hebrides.

Tomorrow night I must have haggis.

Heard Ten Papers

Began the day with a solid English breakfast, then a walk to the conference venue, heard ten paper presentations, did one myself, had dinner with colleagues, walked up the hill west of Kirkwall, logged a geocache, walked back to B&B. Phew!

Of today’s papers I found particularly interesting the one by con organiser James Barrett, on what caused the nearly three centuries of Viking raids. Eminently sensibly argued, for instance, that anything causing those events must be shown to have existed at or before the first raid. Also, anything that had existed long before the period started cannot explain why the raids began at that exact point in time. Barrett’s paper will be published in Antiquity.

Gotta close the blinds tonight, awoke at five this morning.