Unsuccessfully Greening Public Transport

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Skiing Break was action packed for the kids. Monday museum, Tuesday playland, Wednesday skiing with grampa, Thursday swimming, Friday museum & puppet theatre and a museum-organised LAN party for the 10-y-o.

Yesterday’s museum was the Public Transport Museum which shares an entrance and a ticket with the Toy Museum. Lots of buses and trams, including one bus standing on a service pit where you can descend and check out the under side of the vehicle. Juniorette and I made a pink train carriage in the children’s workshop.

One thing that caught my eye was a mothballed experimental hybrid bus, part of a long-running project to improve the environmental footprint of the city’s public transport. It has a car engine running at constant RPM, which charges a large battery, which in turn drives an electrical engine, which drives the bus. Among its strengths is an ability to drive silently in sensitive areas. Among its weaknesses: a 110% fuel consumption compared to a normal diesel engine. Back to the drawing board.

According to a signpost, the fuel-guzzling hybrid is just one of a series of designs that have fallen by the road side during the project. The best solution so far has turned out to be ethanol buses, which are quite common, unmistakable with their smell of old drunk. But as everybody knows by now, ethanol is a useless replacement for fossil fuels as its production uses up loads of them. So it seems that the Stockholm program has yet to find even one working solution. Good to know that they’re trying, though.

In the future, we may see buses running on methane from the Henriksdal sewage plant. It’s inside a mountain that my commuter train passes through every day, and the housing area on its top (once the site of a 1st Millennium hillfort) is colloquially known as the Toilet Lid. Hope that idea pans out.

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Bibliometry and Open Access in the Humanities

From my buddy Jonas Nordin, retiring head editor of Sweden’s main historical journal, a well-argued paper about the problems of applying bibliometric assessments and Open Access practices in the humanities.

Historisk tidskrift, present and future

Reflections on readers’ reactions, bibliometrics and Open Access

In this article the author recounts his experiences as editor of Historisk tidskrift. The starting point is a poll of the journal’s readers presented at the triannual meeting of the Swedish Historical Association in Lund in April 2008. Readers told that they read Historisk tidskrift primarily in order to be up to date on Swedish historical research. The journal reflects fairly well the research interests of Swedish historians. However, concerns for the need to internationalise research and to improve one’s qualifications increasingly govern how Swedish historians publish. This affects the attitude to Historisk tidskrift, which is regarded as too provincial. These and other issues are discussed by the author.

The second part of the article discusses two partly intertwined issues of significance to the journal’s future: Bibliometrics and Open Access. The author is sceptical about bibliometric analyses and points to methodological difficulties in applying such measures to the humanities. Nevertheless, Historisk tidskrift will have to take bibliometrics into account. The author is favourably disposed towards Open Access. However, several problems need to be solved before Historisk tidskrift can become a full Open Access journal. If the journal loses its subscribers, alternative sources of funds has to be found to pay for editorial work. Before this is done, the present form of publication has to be retained.

Full text on-line.

With Juniorette at the Playland

I never thought I’d be writing about Iron Age political geography at a place called Andy’s Playland.

It’s Skiing Break, and because of preparations for our recent move my wife and I never got round to booking accommodations up north as we often have in recent years. This week, instead we take turns with the old folks at minding the children while they’re on break. Yesterday, having been tipped off by Åsa of Ting & Tankar, my wife took our daughter to the Museum of Nordic Culture where she had a blast in the kids’ room. Today, she wanted me to take her to Andy’s over at the old Sickla industrial estate that’s been turned into a suburban shopping Mecca.

I had a bad feeling about this place. I mean, it’s on the third floor of a mall (shudder), and you take your kids there and pay to let them play while you sit around waiting? Sounded… sad and McDonaldsy and culturally deprived. But it’s won me over completely. Get this: it’s a huge cavernous fun house with slides and ball ponds where your kid entertains herself for hours on end while you partake of free wifi and a reasonable coffee shop. I brought a book and the family laptop and earplugs, and I have been working, undisturbed. Now and then the 5-y-o shows up sweaty and breathless and rosy-cheeked, drinks some water and zips off again to her newfound friends. This place is open from 10 to 20 on weekdays. Admission is SEK 120 ($14) a kid.

Taking the children skiing is of course a far better way to bond with them, but honestly, it’ll be years before the little one can appreciate slopes and lifts and northern climes anywhere near as much as she enjoys the playland right now.

New Photo Book on Abandoned Buildings

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Now and then I blog about abandoned tree houses. But of course, real large houses are even more fascinating in their extended boundary state between dwelling and archaeological site (as I wrote about in January ’06).

I recently read a new book (in Swedish) about abandoned houses: Svenska ödehus, finely written by Sven Olov Karlsson and illustrated with exquisite photographs by Philip Pereira dos Reis. Every abandoned house has its story, and the two have sought them out. Highly recommended! Order it here.

Great New Eclectic Folk Pop

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Back in 2006 I gave Silver, the then latest album from Philadelphia folk rockers Maggi, Pierce and E.J., a rave review. Since then the band has put out a collection of covers, a documentary DVD, a side-project duo album, and last fall a new trio album mainly of original songs. I just bought it, and it’s great!

Kahchee Moochee is named after Pierce’s mom’s term for good food. It has ten tracks, and the trio’s signature eclecticism is much in evidence. There’s folk, folk rock, bluegrass, jazz, power pop, boogie rock and punk rock on this disc, there’s three-part harmony and there’s some serious guitar. Cover tunes have been borrowed from 40s blues man Jimmy Liggins, Australian rockers The Hoodoo Gurus and an unsigned 80s Stanford college band named The Druids (at least I’m guessing it’s that Lyle Zimmerman).

MP&E are a low-budget outfit — they may have recorded half of the album in Berlin, but the CD folder is a folded sheet out of a photocopier and the print on the disc looks iffy. But the sound quality — engineering, production and mixing — is top notch. Following up on yesterday’s blog entry, MP&E is a fine example of great hard-working underground bands who have little to lose from music piracy. If you’re into folk and power pop — Essex Green, Big Star, A Camp — and if you don’t mind every song on an album sounding different, then I suggest you order your own copy of that savoury disc, Kahchee Moochee! And who knows — maybe you’ll get lucky like me and also receive a free copy of the band’s 1995 debut album?

Savvy Brazilian Musicians Harness the Power of Pirates

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The BBC’s global tech news show Digital Planet reports from Belém in Brazil on a rootsy version of the new business model that’s likely to supersede the traditional music industry. It’s musical sneakernet.

Since the invention of sound recording, musicians (and to an even greater extent, record companies) have made their money by putting out recordings and controlling who could copy them. In the analog era, this was fairly easy, as sound quality degraded with each successive copy generation. Whoever had the master tape of a hit song easily made money off it. Also, song lyrics and other sleeve notes were hard for pirates to copy and distribute well.

This system is now in an advanced state of collapse because of digital audio and the internet. Why pay for music when you can get it for free over the net? And song lyrics have effectively become free poetry on the web.

But at the same time, recording equipment has become cheap enough that any band can have better gear than the Beatles without the involvement of a record company. And music fans are still happy to pay for tickets to live performances. So for the past decade unsigned bands have been doing their best to reach non-paying listeners over the net. If they succeed, they draw a bigger paying crowd at their gigs. That’s where the music business is going.

In Belém, apparently there’s a large music-loving, party-happy audience that doesn’t download music — most likely because people don’t have broadband. Instead they buy cheap pirated CDs in the street. What the city’s musicians do, then, instead of uploading mp3 files on the net, is they burn CDs and hand them out to the street vendors to copy. The musicians make no money off of the sales. But they build a reputation that allows them to draw a paying crowd at their gigs — largely dance-centric sound system affairs.

So the lesson is this: illicit copying is not a threat to artists. It is the new distribution system. Recorded music has gone from an exclusive high investment, high returns business to an inclusive low investment, low returns one. Measured in turnover, it has gone from a non-existent business (19th century) to a huge one (20th century) to a rapidly shrinking one (21st century). But no natural law says that a musician or a holder of record-company stock must be able to become insanely rich. Talented musicians aren’t driven to make music mainly by the prospect of a jetset lifestyle. And music lovers don’t measure the art’s vitality in terms of turnover. We look at the amount of good music being made, and music is alive and well and innovating, thank you very much. The people decrying the ongoing development are record company representatives and musical has-beens who are living off their back catalogue — not the next generation’s Beatles. They’re busy putting free mp3s on-line or slipping CDs to their local street pirate and building a following.

Best Reads of 2008

Looking for a good book? Here are my best reads in English of 2008.

  • Will in the World. How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. Stephen Greenblatt 2004. The great man in his historical context.
  • Casino Royale. Ian Fleming 1953. Finely written about the greatest secret agent of them all.
  • The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy. Avram Davidson 1975. Riveting supernatural detective stories in alternate-history Balkans.
  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Michael Chabon 2007. Yiddish noir detective novel in an alternate-history Alaska.
  • The Spook’s Apprentice. Joseph Delaney 2004. Young-adult rural fantasy.
  • Electric Universe. David Bodanis 2005. Richly embroidered non-fic.
  • Under the Black Flag. David Cordingly 1995. Arr, me hearties!

Archaeology Magazine’s Spring Issue

i-754562f4de4748251ce9cd0fe41db573-cover.gifMy favourite stories in Archaeology Magazine’s spring issue:

  • J.T. Milanich on the practicalities, and the unforeseen hassle, of re-burying a collection of Native American skeletons he excavated in the 1980s before his recent retirement.
  • E.A. Powell on some fake “Atlantean” ruins built into a Dubai luxury hotel that will one day make a very strange meta-ruin.

North European content:

Let’s Turn The Population Trend

i-ab760a188315530720bd0937527b32f9-gerbils.jpgImagine that you’re ten years old, you’ve got a cageful of gerbils and your weekly allowance is just big enough to feed five of them. If one of the females pops out a brood of pups, you’re in trouble. You can either try to weedle a bigger allowance out of your parents, try to give gerbils away, starve the gerbils… or start killing gerbil pups.

Now, at more than six billion people in our worldwide gerbil cage, we’ve pretty much got the same choices, only we can’t give people away — but we can control the number of pups born. And we need to. Because within the next century, our global population is going to come down one way or the other. Famine, war, pandemics — or contraception. Those are our choices.

The key thing is to make sure that next generation is smaller than the current one, and continue that way for centuries until we reach a sustainable level again. Chinese dictatorial population practices have been highly successful in this regard: on one hand, the one-child-per-couple policy (ethically defensible in my opinion), on the other the underground tendency for selective abortion of girls (ethically iffy but unintentionally very effective in curtailing population growth). We need to do even better by democratic means.

Woman or man — thy loins must never issue more than two children, preferably less! That’s the replacement rate. But by all means have a whole gerbil-like clutch of children, a full quiver, a soccer team — through adoption. Empty the world’s orphanages! And regardless of whether you decide to have kids at all — put money into the education of girls. Because one of the surest ways known to sociology of keeping nativity figures down is to give girls an education.

Putting children into the world comes with a certain responsibility. They’re not going to thank you for putting them on the planet if in 30 years their kids are dying of dysentery and malnourishment in a refugee camp. Let’s try to ease population down, and maybe we can avoid a crash.

This is my contribution to the Global Population Speak Out initiative.