Steady Job

If by a “steady job” you mean one that is contracted to last until retirement, then I have had only one in my life so far. In 2002, Roger Blidmo gave me a steady job with his contract archaeology unit Arkeologikonsult. I left it after only a few months as my dig was done and written up, as the unit had no further digs lined up at the time, and as I had received funding to study Vendel Period metal detector finds from UppÃ¥kra.

Today I have signed up with the Royal Academy of Letters for the second steady job of my life. It’s actually just a change in the formal circumstances around my work as managing editor of Fornvännen: I’ve been doing it since 1999, and now the job has turned steady. One quarter of full time, an office in central Stockholm, and side duties having to do with the Academy’s on-line publication strategy and sundry editorial tasks with its book output.

I’m very grateful to the Academy’s former and current Secretaries and to my friend the Chief Financial Officer for the excellent terms they’ve offered me!

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Take Your Flu Shot

I have just spent a week nursing my family through an onset of the flu. High fever. Bucketfuls of snotty bog roll. Headaches. Stomach aches. Rattling coughs. Shoving innumerable paracetamol suppositories where the sun don’t shine. But I was unscathed myself. Dear Reader, come autumn, do what I did and take your flu shot.

I have sometimes met with incredulity, even opposition, from the district nurse when I’ve popped down for my annual vaccination. “You’re a strong healthy young(ish) man, you don’t need a flu shot!” Indeed. I do not need a flu shot to survive. But it costs only $20, takes only a few minutes and is virtually painless. While the flu costs a week of lost work during which you feel like one of the restless dead. I’d count myself stupid if I didn’t take my shot. They aren’t always effective, as it’s hard to foresee which virus strain will make up a year’s epidemic, but that shot improves your chances of evading the scourge hugely. Don’t listen to the antivax kooks™. Vaccines are science-based medicine at its finest.

The Nation Approves Sb

i-9ac02f7e00db94626388ea34a393c223-Nation-approved.jpgScienceBlogs.com, including Aard, has received left-wing newspaper The Nation’s seal of approval and been listed as one of its recommended web sites in a book that’s just out. To my Swedish readers, this isn’t likely to mean much, as left-wing US politics is what our conservatives advocate: such as when Prime Minister Reinfeldt endorsed Barack Obama. To US readers, however, this underlines the fact that most of us at Sb are screaming pinko dirty commie hippies. And gay-loving potheads. The rightwingedmost among us, like Orac of Respectful Insolence, are in fact centrists in the US perspective.

Anyway, being a Swede with pretty standard Swedish opinions, I’m very pleased to have been honoured by the The Nation, and not for instance by Fox News. That would really have made me worried. So, welcome on board, Dear Readers of The Nation!

Internet Withdrawal

Having moved recently to a house wired only with telephone copper, my family and I are now into our fourth week without an internet connection. It’s a really frustrating way to learn just how dependent we’ve become on the net.

For one thing, we don’t own a printed telephone directory, and our only street map of greater Stockholm is in the car. We can’t do on-line banking, and we can’t mail-order stuff. I can read email on my smartphone, but my wife’s going nuts over being cut off. And simple information searching — woah, I miss Wikipedia five times a day. Suddenly we have to use our printed cooking books again.

I can’t work from home as my files are all on a DAV server elsewhere. As for recreation, I guess as a blogger and habitual forum denizen I’m also the hardest-hit family member. Junior’s adapted well, installing my old Dungeon Keeper CD on our PC instead of gaming on-line. Good thing we haven’t allowed him to take up WoW, or I suppose he’d refuse to leave his mom’s place for more than a few hours at a time. Anyway, everyboy’s been knocked flat by the flu, except for myself who took a shot for it, thank Dawkins.

I can’t understand why, in this day and age, a DSL connection still apparently requires the manual intervention of a technician in the local phone station. The advertised wait is several weeks! After ordering the service, I got the modem in days, but it’s useless before the rewiring’s been done. And of course there’s been the holidays.

Oh well, I’m having plenty of time to unpack and get our new place organised. And read books. Only I’m running out of them and would like to order a few on-line…

Bagels of the Eastern Geats

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After my November talk at the County Museum in Linköping I was kindly presented with a copy of the third edition of Inga Wallenquists’s book Östgötamat, “Östergötland Food”. It’s a beautifully illustrated coffee-table book combining recipes from the past three centuries with bits of regional kitchen history. The text is repetitive and should have been more stringently edited, but the contents are nonetheless interesting and inspiring. Excellent archival photos mingle with new ones by the masterly Göran Billesson.

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I made Duchess Anna’s cake (p. 59) on New Year’s Eve, this being a variant on the Kronans kaka theme: ground almonds, lemon rind and a mashed potato, awesome. Yesterday I made boiled pretzels from Horn (p. 121), which are basically slightly sweet bagels: you fashion sweet yeast-based dough into pretzels, allow them to rise, boil them for 90 seconds and then bake them for 12 minutes. Lovely! Horn parish on Lake Åsunden is along with neighbouring Hycklinge one of the region’s central areas in the 1st Millennium, though the hundred of Kinda was not at the time counted as part of Östergötland. My friend Mattias is from Kinda, which is kinda neat!

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My next project will be Baron Adelswärd’s sponge cake (p. 148) which intriguingly has potato starch instead of wheat flour. Gonna use Grand Marnier donated by Tor instead of the stipulated brandy, and leave out some of the sugar.

Order the Östgötamat book here (in Swedish).

Film Review: The Real Tomb Hunters

i-1f00fa8e915a63d197f471513886c12f-realtombhunters.jpgBack in July I panned the History Channel’s documentary on the peopling of North America, Journey to 10,000 BC. Their publicist then sent me a recent re-issue of a 2005 film about adventurous archaeologists, The Real Tomb Hunters — Snakes, Curses and Booby Traps. Here are my impressions of that picture.

Real Tomb Hunters, though not a very good documentary, is far better than Journey to 10,000 BC. This is because a) it doesn’t rely on cheezy computer animation, b) it aims much lower, intending only to be exciting, not to present any research results or debates. We get to follow a number of archaeologists through the history of the discipline who have done adventurous fieldwork in exotic locales. (A palaeontologist is also slipped in without special comment. I guess a fossil bed is a kind of tomb if you’re willing to stretch it…)

The film is good edutainment, but has a number of flaws. Most seriously, though the team has been able to travel around the world, they haven’t had enough time on each location, so the same few clips are repeated endlessly and we get a lot of unprovenanced archive footage that also tends to get repeated. Every time the narrator mentions a snake we see the same clip.

Stylistically, the viewer soon tires of the ominous music that is constantly playing in the background, and the narrator sounds like he’s trying to sell something rather than tell a story. In a documentary where almost all the talking heads are men, a female narrator would have provided balance.

For some rousing yarns about real archaeologists hacking through the jungle, crawling into ancient tombs and getting shot at by the militia, the film is not bad at all. But if your main interest is things that happened before about AD 1900, this film is not for you.

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Mars Rovers Still Working After Five Years

Dear Reader, remember the remote-controlled Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity? How long is it since the last time you thought of them? Spirit landed on Mars five Earth years ago today, Opportunity on 25 January — and both are still going strong! These machines were originally meant to work for three months, yet they continue to trundle around that cold, distant planet, taking pictures and analysing rocks. Check out the project’s web site for news!

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Our Strange Entrances

i-0abed99bd3189f3660d675fec2db78da-houseplan.jpgThe houses in our new neighbourhood are clones of one basic design: an L-shaped single-story structure with a fenced yard inside the angle of the L. The main entrance (1) is on one of the L’s outer long walls. The grubby-boots entrance (2) is on the gable adjoining the wall with entrance 1. Finally, there’s an entrance from the yard (3) which in many cases is fitted to be unlocked only from the inside: it’s how the architect intended us to reach the yard from inside the house.

Our particular specimen of this design only has entrance 3, combining the functions of all three entrances from the original design. The house is sited in such a way that an entrance at 1 would have been inconvenient. Nor does there appear ever to have been an entrance A from that side of the house into the passage along that gable to the yard. We used to have an entrance 2, but the previous owner had it bricked up and instead installed a really glitzy bathroom in that corner of the building. So our house has kind of a strange layout: you have to enter the yard by the garden gate (B), and you have to enter the house right next to our dinner table (3). Then you have to cross the dining room to reach the coat hanger and the nearest toilet.

But I like to think that this freakish layout actually fits well at least with my own personality. When you enter my house for the first time, you will feel warmly welcomed into the heart of the place, and you will at the same time be a bit disorientated by its strangeness.