Skiing Break

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Last week was skiing break for my kids. I couldn’t find anywhere good to stay in the mountains, so we didn’t go off on holiday. Here’s what we did for fun instead.

  • Dinner at the home of a Chinese friend. It was one of those no hablar parties that spouses in multi-ethnic marriages know all about. The food was great and everybody there except me spoke Mandarin – loudly and incessantly. I’ve never minded much: this time I had brought a book and there was a computer to play with.
  • Birthday party at the home of an Iranian friend. He used to be a death-metal kid. Now he’s a pro-democracy Persian patriot. Everybody wore green.
  • Watched the new Alice in Wonderland movie in 3D and in the country’s largest movie theatre. The kids loved it. I didn’t. Instead of Carroll’s original bad acid trip with language games they’ve made it into a slightly sappy Narnia thing where the characters have names and relationships and there’s even a fixed geography. But the lead actress does a fine job and is nice to look at.
  • Karaoke night: my kids wowed all the grown-ups with their skillz. Did you know that there’s a Chinese expression for someone who won’t share the mike? Mai ba, “Microphone Tyrant”. All the Beatles songs were accompanied by embarrassing footage of a look-alike band. In order to believe that they really look alike, you have to think that all European males look the same.
  • Went downhill skiing at the towering old Flottsbro landfill. It’s just across the lake from Älvesta, in plain view of where I practiced fieldwalking back in ’08. For skiing, I still use the gear my parents gave me in 1988. Need to sharpen the edges.
  • Went skating and cross-country skiing.
  • Got beaten twice at Yspahan and once at Settlers of Catan by my buddy Oscar. That’ll teach me to take up with strange men that I meet at on-line discussion forums about, ah, shall we say… specialised pastimes.
  • Juniorette went with the neighbours and watched The Princess and the Frog, and Grandma took her to the Museum of Nordic Culture.

The skiing break then ended on a non-fun note when the entire Rundkvist family was laid low by a calicivirus on Sunday.
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Antiquity’s Spring Issue

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Spring has reputedly reached certain areas way south of where I still shovel snow daily, and with it comes Antiquity’s spring issue. This is of course an intensely interesting journal, and not solely because the summer issue will feature that opinion piece of mine that I quoted from on the blog recently. In the following are some highlights. All links will give you abstracts and then present you with a pay wall.

  • Lisa Hodgetts of the University of Western Ontario (!) offers a paper on lithics & bone sites of the period 2400-1800 cal BC, located on the Fjord of Varanger, an area that is north of Sweden and Finland and more easterly than most of the latter country. We’re talking waaay north. Explains the editor, “[T]he faunal assemblage shows that some [groups in the area] are seal specialists, while others hunt reindeer and others again ambush dolphins.”
  • Landscape-spanning rows of standing stones are not uncommon in the UK and NW France, with Carnac being a famous example (and a book about that site is reviewed in the spring issue). But dating them is tricky. Ralph M. Fyfe and Tom Greeves of the University of Plymouth have investigated one in Dartmoor that has fortuitously been covered by peat, allowing radiocarbon dating of material both under the stones and on top of them. The stone row is surprisingly old, dating from the later 4th millennium cal BC. Good palaeoenvironmental work and interpretations are also offered.
  • S. Leach et al. report on skeletal analyses of a rich Late Roman female burial from York, where the woman in question most likely had the looks of combined African-European ancestry. The authors conclude,

    “All evidence (unusual burial rite, unusual ancestry, strontium and oxygen isotope data) taken together can make a convincing case for an incomer to Roman York who was of high status. … her oxygen isotope signature makes it unlikely that she grew up in York. Rather, it places her at the western edge of Britain or, perhaps more likely, an area of similar ‘warm’ climate on the Continent. … The craniomorphometric analysis suggests that she may have been of ‘mixed race’ ancestry. In cosmopolitan Eboracum, which had been home to Severus and his troops nearly 200 years earlier, perhaps her appearance was not that unusual.”

    I’m not quite comfortable with the editor’s characterisation of the lady as a “glamorous mixed-race woman”, though. Was he thinking of Donna Summer?

  • Last October I reported that the Danes are running Late Bronze Age urn burials through CT scanners. So are the Italians, with Etruscan burials, and they’ve beat the Danes to publication. (This has been done before by the Germans, though.)

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Distributed Sun-Staring

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Human eyes and brains are still way, way better at image recognition than computers. There are many visual tasks that we do swiftly ourselves but that we can’t yet get machines to do reliably at all. In January of ’06 I blogged about the Stardust @ Home project where you can help identify particles of interplanetary dust and comet-tail debris in a huge library of digital micrographs. Now I’ve learned from the BBC’s Digital Planet podcast about Solar Stormwatch, where you can help forecast coronal mass ejections and other destructive solar activity that humanity needs early warning about. Check it out!

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Weekend Fun: Books and Games

Weatherwise, last weekend was thawing and misty and overcast, so I didn’t feel like doing much outdoors. I finished reading Daryl Gregory’s new novel (didn’t do much for me) and started Douglas Adams’s fifth Hitch-hiker book. When it appeared in 1992 I didn’t bother with it since it seemed too much like flogging an aging franchise, but 11-y-o Junior recently asked me to buy it for him and then he recommended it. So far it seems mildly entertaining.

Had friends over for games: Settlers of Catan and Qwirkle. I was lucky enough to trade my old 80s Junta game for that Settlers box last week. I don’t like to own stuff that I never use, and so the Junta game has been a source of bad conscience for years. It’s probably great fun if you’re six players who know the rules by heart, but I’ve never been able to pull that off. Junta’s unconventional combination of boardless negotiation and episodes of a very basic war game leave most neophytes confused and a little bored. Settlers is much better.

I also found some games. On Saturday I lugged a bag of cardboard waste and a bag of plastic waste through fine drizzle to the recycling station. There I came upon four games sitting on a snow drift. They hadn’t been there for long as they were barely damp. Two were TV show tie-ins, one was a music trivia game, and these I left alone. But the fourth was Twister, and I happily took it home to my kids.

And you, Dear Reader? Do you still remember the final weekend of February 2010? What did you do for fun?