Heavy Blinkers

Lately I’ve been listening to Canadian 90s/00s orchestral popsters the Heavy Blinkers. Here’s a fine song off of their ’02 album Better Weather, “I Used to Be a Design”. I actually prefer this live version since its production is scaled down and Ruth Minnikin’s vocals are heavily processed on the album version. The band performing here has since disintegrated, with the female lead singer going on to head Ruth Minnikin and Her Bandwagon, a folky outfit that will have a new album out any day now.

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Weekend Fun

  • Took a walk and photographed two buildings for Wikipedia.
  • Went skiing on the golf course.
  • Had friends over, played a game of Scotland Yard and a game of Power Grid.
  • Painted three walls in the bedroom. This was sort of a chore, but not in fact boring, and having a nice-looking bedroom is fun. The fourth wall is destined for some faux-Japanese cherry-branch wallpaper on pale grey that looks like something out of a William Gibson novel.
  • Had family over for a fine Korean dinner cooked by two Chinese sisters.

One piece of fun that I missed out on was Midlake’s Stockholm gig. It was sold out. Anyway, I haven’t heard their new album, and I usually don’t enjoy gigs much when I haven’t heard the songs before. So I might as well put some of that concert-ticket money into a CD instead.

And you, Dear Reader? Tell us about your weekend fun!

Tripartite Names in Denmark and China

Danes often have tripartite names, like famous Roman Iron Age scholar Ulla Lund Hansen or NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. And I’ve been wondering how these names are inherited. Specifically, which names get dropped and which ones get passed on to the kids. So I wrote my erudite buddy, osteologist Helene Agerskov Madsen, and asked her to explain.

I learned that the system is not very old (~100 yrs?) and has already started to fall apart. But in its idealised form here’s how it works. The middle name tracks a matrilineage and the last name a patrilineage. When a child is born it inherits its mother’s middle name and its father’s last name. When a woman marries, she keeps her middle name and takes her hubby’s last name. So if the aforementioned Ulla and Anders married, she would change to Ulla Lund Rasmussen, and any children would be named likewise. Yes, Danish children will ideally share both middle and last name with mom and only their last name with dad. His middle name comes down to him from his maternal grandmothers.

Then there are niceties to the system. For instance, double patronymics are avoided, so you won’t see anybody named Svend Nielsen Jensen. And lately it has become common among women to drop the middle name at marriage and instead join their own last name and their hubby’s with a hyphen, e.g. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the leader of the Danish Social Democrats.

Through my rather intimate Chinese contacts, I’ve learned about another tripartite naming system. Most Chinese have names consisting of three ideograms / syllables: “Mao Ze Dong”. Ideally, the first is the name of the patrilineage, the second is shared within a generation of that lineage, and the third identifies the individual. All first cousins on the male line are thus supposed to have the same first two ideograms. My wife and her three sibs for instance share “Cycle” and “Space”. But in the following generation, the system has been applied patchily, so that our daughter only shares her second ideogram (“Family”) with a few of her cousins. Of course, traditionally her name wouldn’t be expected to fit the Chinese system at all since her mother married out into an illiterate Swedish patrilineage.

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The Value of Biodiversity

Occasioned by a comment on my recent entry on the movie Avatar and the Gaia hypothesis, here’s a re-run of a blog entry from March 2006.


As comments to a recent entry, I’ve had an interesting discussion about environmentalism with a friend. We both agree that biodiversity and ecological systems should be preserved. But we disagree as to the reason for this.

If I understand my friend correctly, her opinion is that we should preserve biodiversity because it is precious (or even holy?) without reference to the needs and wishes of humans. Let’s say she feels biodiversity is an abstract good.

My opinion is that there is no such thing as abstract good. My reason for thinking we should preserve biodiversity is that it would be dangerous and aesthetically dissatisfying for humans if we lost it. I believe that the concept of value is only at all applicable from the perspective of an intelligent observer.

Consider the planet Octavia, far, far away. It sported a radiant ecosystem with innumerable species of exquisite beauty — until yesterday. A nearby star and the local black hole bumped uglies, producing an extended shower of hard radiation, killing every living thing on Octavia as the planet rotated. The planet now has innumerable fossils of exquisite beauty. And in a few years, Octavia’s entire star system will be swallowed by the black hole, obliterating it.

Now, is this a tragedy? No. It’s a non-event. Let me add two crucial pieces of information.

1) The smartest being that ever evolved on vibrant Octavia was a blue armadillo-like creature with the brains of a fish. And it didn’t suffer one bit when the radiation hit it.

2) No intelligent being from another star system ever came close enough to Octavia to even notice that it had life.

Or consider a species of yellow toad restricted to a single valley in Papua New Guinea. Its habitat is severely threatened by logging, and chances are it’ll be extinct in a few years. The passing of this rare toad species is of no practical concern to humans, and the locals won’t miss it. But people in the West, like me, will mourn the toad. Not because it had any intrinsic value, but because it was a fun animal to study.

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Tech Note: Help Me Choose a Smartphone

Four years ago (when I had only been blogging for a month) I asked my readers what kind of smartphone I should get. Nobody replied, but I got some advice elsewhence and bought a Qtek 9100. Then, two years ago, I asked the same question again and got lots of answers. In the end I bought a Samsung SGH-i780 that has served me well since.

I’d like to get away from Windows Mobile while there’s still an aftermarket for the Samsung, so here I go again, asking you, Dear Reader, for advice. Here are the specs I’m aiming for.

  • Cell phone connectivity
  • Wifi connectivity that actually allows me to connect, not just see that there’s an access point
  • Swedish qwerty keyboard
  • NOT Windows Mobile. I’d like an open-source operating system this time. Android, anyone?
  • Socket for removeable flash memory and preferably works as a vanilla USB drive when connected to a desktop computer
  • Plays nice with my linux computer
  • Full-screen time & date readouts when in sleep mode
  • Hardware key-lock button
  • Stable touch-screen that needs re-calibration less than once a year
  • Decent camera

What model smartphone are you using, Dear Reader? Are you happy with it? What should I get?

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Population Will Come Down — We Choose How

It’s time for the annual Global Population Speak Out. We all know that in order not to crash the planet we need to consume less energy and raw materials and we need to emit less pollutants. But it doesn’t seem to be generally known that nothing an affluent Westerner does can have anywhere near as beneficial an effect on the future environment as not having kids. Riding a bike to work, recycling milk cartons, turning off the outdoor lamp before you go to bed — all of those green efforts of yours will be swamped and obviated if you have that extra kid.

Think about it. If there were only a few million people on the planet, then we wouldn’t have to worry about consumption or pollution. The problem is partly our environmental footprint per capita, but more the sheer number of people on the planet.

So, as I once wrote, for a person to produce more than two children is unethical. If you want lots of kids, then adopt — preferably from an affluent country, as you only make things worse if you move people from cultures with a small environmental footprint to a land of big cars and hamburgers.

We need to give little girls worldwide a good education, because that makes them have fewer kids when they grow up. And we need to combat various religious organisations that sow doubt about the efficacy and moral acceptability of contraceptives.

The population will not continue to grow for ever, nor remain constant on a high figure for very long. Sooner or later the human population will come down. It’s up to us to decide if this should happen through contraception and a global single-child policy or through a catastrophic die-off.

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