News on Antikythera

Back in November of 2006 I blogged about new research into the Antikythera device, a Greek 1st century BC astronomical simulator. The news at the time was that:

… computer-aided X-ray tomography … has allowed a team of scholars to understand better how the thing worked and to decipher more of its many inscriptions. Using a large number of cogged wheels and gears, the mechanism was designed to simulate and predict the movements and interrelationships of the more important heavenly bodies.

Now, a new paper in Nature presents further insights: the device

… unites abstruse astronomical determinations of time with the calendar of civic society. Another ancient Greek calendar cycle, called the Metonic cycle, was established to cope with the incommensurability of the lunar cycle and the solar year — the period of Earth’s rotation around the Sun, as determined, say, by the time between successive summer solstices. One Metonic period is equal to 235 lunar months, which is almost exactly 19 solar years. The Metonic cycle, thought previously to be used only by astronomers, is represented on a dial on the Antikythera Mechanism. But this dial now turns out to be inscribed with the names of months in a regional calendar used in Corinthian colonies in northwest Greece — providing evidence that the device was used for mundane reckonings, and giving a surprising clue to its origin.

The team has even identified a dial that tracks a four-year cycle, most likely that of the Olympiad!

Update 5 October: Tobias points to an amazing short film about the new results.


Bob Lind Gets Grant

Affärs- och Kapitalnytt reports that the Scanian bank Sparbanken Syd has given an $8300 grant (SEK 50,000) for archaeological fieldwork and research: “a first instalment for excavations” at a cemetery in Ravlunda parish. Well done!

Unfortunately, the bank has chosen to give the money to our old friend Bob Lind, a homeopath and amateur archaeoastronomer with really wigged-out ideas. Bob has neither formal qualifications nor any excavation experience. On the contrary, he was recently reprimanded by the County Archaeologist for unauthorised de-turfing and addition of stones to the cemetery in question. So there is no way that Bob Lind will ever be given an excavation permit.

I wonder if the bank people realised that they were giving the grant to a person who will never be able to put it to fruitful use.

Thanks to Jesper Jerkert.

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Hymen Reconstruction and Public Healthcare

Big Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet heads today’s edition with a two-page story about surgical hymen (re-)construction. The news is that a number of tax-funded Stockholm clinics offer the procedure for a fee of about $40 (SEK 260), and ample space is also devoted to an explanation of why the whole thing is controversial. (Patriarchy, honour-based society, control of female sexuality, I don’t need to explain it to you, Dear Reader.)

This recalls the issue whether public health care should offer male circumcision. As I have argued before, all genital mutilation of minors should of course be illegal — but as long as male infant circumcision remains legal, it should be part of public healthcare to avoid a proliferation of amateur circumcisionists.

Hymen construction is a silly pointless procedure in demand among certain immigrant groups with traditional customs. It is far more controversial in Sweden than male circumcision, despite the facts that it a) is performed on sexually mature young women instead of small children, b) does not involve the removal of any tissue. The difference is of course that male-circumcising minorities have been part of Swedish society for centuries and have reached positions of the highest influence, while the groups that mess with female genitalia have only been arriving for a few decades and are still low on the ladder.

Contrary to widespread popular belief, the hymen is not like the cap of a bottle. The vaginal tract always has an opening from birth, or your menstrual discharge would have nowhere to go before you started having sex. The hymen, rather, is a ring-shaped swelling of the vaginal lining, and not always easily discernable at all. Women do not invariably bleed after their first penetration.

The newspaper story cites several cases where minority girls have sought hymen reconstruction after having been raped by men of their own ethnic group. Both the rapists and the victims have understood that it would be unthinkable to report the crime as this would damage the honour of the girl’s family. In the worst cases, this honour would only be repaired by the murder or suicide of the girl!

So, should public health care offer hymen reconstruction? In my opinion, yes, because hymen obsessives pay taxes too. But the procedure should only be available to people over the age of 18, who have the right to vote and must be assumed to make their own decisions about their fannies. The latter assumption is of course highly debatable in situations where a young woman runs the risk of being murdered by her uncles and cousins.

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Estonian Chicken Spam Nightmare

So it’s the 80s, Estonia is under Soviet rule, and your job is to direct movie commercials. And when you get the assignment to promote kana-hakkliha (processed chicken meat), you know exactly what it will take to make the product a big seller. You need nightmarish imagery, a heavy, psychedelic sound track and dramatic cutting. Because after all, you want to convince the viewers that anyone who overdoses on kana-hakkliha will spend days or weeks out of their freaking mind.

(Though I suppose this must be a humorous re-mix of what the real commercial looked like.)

Birthday Clustering

Yesterday my glorious daughter turned 5. Today my radiant son turned 10. In the maternity ward five years ago I quipped to the nurses, “The kids being born one day apart, I suppose I’m only fertile for one week each year”.

Replied one of them, “I think you’re probably only romantic for one week each year.”

Social Nucleus and Accretionary Matter


Once in the early 90s two Stockholm girls went to college to major in Chinese. They became friends: one was half-Chinese, the other had spent part of her childhood in China. They would one day become the Architect and the Sculptress. But first they went to China to pursue their studies, and made friends with an expat Chinese Stockholm girl who had come there for the same purpose. She would later become the Journalist.

In China the Architect picked up a local Painter whom she brought along when all three girls returned to Sweden. In the end it didn’t work out, but Architect and Painter remained friends. Instead the three girls settled down with the Philologist, Saxophonist and Archaeologist, and Painter paired up with the Industrial Designer.

Today we all had lunch together, the people who have accreted around those two college undergrads, accompanied by our progeny (n=6 and counting) and two kids from the neighbourhood. Afterwards we went down to the beach, a little colony of Chinese with groupies, and sat down next to a clutch of Africans with groupies. That beach looked like the United Nations.

Chaosium’s Basic Role-Playing

i-f1c9f18d7c9218d279cb432c91f6e06d-Basic_Roleplaying.gifAnybody got a copy of Chaosium’s 1980 game-rules booklet Basic Role-Playing? And the 1982 Worlds of Wonder boxed set, specifically the Magic World booklet? I’d love to have a look at them (photocopies or a brief loan would be fine), since combined and translated they became the first Swedish role-playing game, Drakar och Demoner (1982). It turned me on to gaming when I was twelve. I haven’t played DoD in years, but It would be great to get to compare the Swedish rules with the original Chaosium products.

Google as an Emergent AI

Here’s a cool update on the old Programmer Mel story, a tech-nerdy short story by George Dyson on Google as an emergent AI. It’s sort of a fantasy-fulfillment tale for the boomers who seem to make up the bulk of the Edge crowd. This time Mel is named Ed, probably in honour of Ed Nather who wrote the Mel story.

“By the time Ed turned 65, fifteen billion transistors per second were being produced. Now 68, he had been lured out of retirement when the bidding wars for young engineers (and between them for houses) prompted Google to begin looking for old-timers who already had seven-figure mid-peninsula roofs over their heads and did not require stock options to show up for work. Bits are bits, gates are gates, and logic is logic. A systems engineer from the 1960s was right at home in the bowels of a server farm in Mountain View.”

Via the Edge mailing list.



On my evening walk, while listening to a Skepticality interview with secular humanists Mel Lipman and Lori Lipman Brown, I took some pix of fireweed growing in weird places. (That’s Epilobium angustifolium, Sw. rallarros, mjölkört, “railroad man’s rose”, “milk plant”). The plant propagates by wind-borne seeds like thistledown, and they can apparently sprout anywhere. Some were growing out of a crack in a vertical cliff face.


Others appeared to have been planted on Mr. Kight’s, my ground-floor neighbour’s, balcony.


As it turned out, he had simply left a little planting soil with his gardening tools in a large pot, and the fireweed had come along and made the most of the situation. Blooming there for the benefit of Mr. Kight.