On-Line Mesopotamian Board Game

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Reiner Knizia is one of the board-gaming world’s greatest celebrities, famous for a long string of hit games. According to the members of Boardgamegeek.com, the best of Knizia’s games is Tigris & Euphrates (1997), which is #11 on the site’s thousands-strong ranking list. I can’t really compare against other Knizia games, but I do know that it’s one of my favourites.

As you may imagine, I was very happy the other day when I discovered that Boardgamegeek.com actually offers on-line T&E for free, played against real people! The rules are available in many languages on BGG. Let’s have an Aardvarchaeology T&E challenge! I’m mrund on the site. Who wants to play?

Update 1 July: Paddy K recommends a video tutorial to teach you the game.

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New Albums: Roy Zimmerman, George Hrab

i-90e7ef9290f33337f1ec3e964c3157ad-cover_real_200px.jpgCalifornian Roy Zimmerman is a satirical singer in the vein of Tom Lehrer (who endorses him). He recently released his seventh solo album, Real American, and I’m happy to say that Zimmerman has lost none of the brilliance us fans have come to expect.

The disc has 13 tracks of which 3 are spoken political comedy. My favourite is the live-recorded boogie tune “Socialist!”, which recalls “I’ll Pull Out” from Zimmerman’s previous album. It’s sung in the voice of a hillbilly Republican who sneers at all the socialists in the audience. They’ve driven to the gig on public streets, gone to public schools, visited Yellowstone national park, yep, they’re all “taxatin’, appropriatin’, regulatin’, nanny-statin’ socialists”.

Another highlight is a Caribbean limbo tune about Rush Limbo, err, Limbaugh: “How low can you go?”. And of course Zimmerman doesn’t forget to make fun of the home crowd on one tune, “The Orange County Rolling Acres Senior Center Cannabis Club”, accompanied by ukulele and upright bass.

i-ab423986141649b1fa0172612d70e10f-hrab6.jpgLikewise beloved by skeptics and lefties is Philadelphian multi-instrumentalist George Hrab (did you know he speaks fluent Ukrainian?). His new album, Trebuchet, is available on-line as a 70-minute mp3 file for anyone who wants to listen before they buy. 17 tracks. The title may call to mind 80s death metal band Bolt Thrower, but most of the music here is studio-polished 70s funk and prog. King Crimson fans, take note! I particularly like “Far”, about astronomical distances, “Death From the Skies” where Phil Plait the Bad Astronomer appears, and the crimsonesque instrumental “One Hypnopompic Jerk”.

Roy Zimmerman is mainly a comedic singer (though he does a few serious numbers as well, live and on other discs), and he’s never personal. Hrab does get personal on the new album. His lyrics won’t make you laugh much: they vary in tone from playful to serious, and can be quite poignant as in “Small Comfort”, about an atheist mourning a loved one. Both men are accomplished musicians and arrangers, and neither makes any claim to musical innovation: they move effortlessly among Anglo-American pop music styles of the past century and there’s nothing in the production of either album that sticks out as an attempt to sound hip for 2010. (In fact, the only thing I can think of that would signal our musical era would be heavy use of digital autotuning, perish the thought.) Both Roy Zimmerman’s Real American and George Hrab’s Trebuchet are lovely pieces of work and have my recommendations.

Read my review of Zimmerman’s third-latest album too. The Skepticality podcast offers a long interview with Hrab about his new album.

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The Earth After Us

i-3e74c05bd3373b3b19d8353aac2e3b97-zalasiewicz_the_earth_after_us.jpgJan Zalasiewicz is a geologist active at the University of Leicester. His 2008 book The Earth After Us: What Legacy Will Humans Leave in the Rocks? is an interesting read even though the title does not correspond very well to the contents. Zalasiewicz does answer the question about what legacy humans will leave in the rocks. But on their own, these answers would only provide material for a magazine article. The bulk of the book is instead an introduction to geology which allows the neophyte to understand what will happen to the remains of today’s world as millions of years pass.

Having no geological training, I learned a lot from the book. An idea that I found particularly interesting was that sedimentary strata show a periodicity linked to the Earth’s movement through the solar system, the Milankovitch cycles. Another was that palaeontology’s source material is partly determined by what rocks happen to be currently available for inspection at the surface. Another was that anything that spends a lot of time at the surface of the Earth will soon erode away, which means that a few million years from now it will be impossible to study humanity’s hominid ancestry. Highland ecologies rarely fossilise.

But to me, the book’s take-home message is that humanity’s reign on Earth will mainly show up in the palaeontological record not as a stratum, but as an interface between geological periods. Such a period interface is defined as a place in a stratigraphic column where ecology shifts dramatically, many species go extinct and new ones evolve in their place. Zalasiewicz is quietly convinced that we are a blip on the timeline, with no chance whatsoever of sustaining our great numbers and high technology for more than another few centuries. To future geology, the heyday of Homo sapiens will just be one of several instantaneous mass extinction events in the planet’s history.

See also my review of Alan Weisman’s 2007 book The World Without Us.

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Four Knife Sheath Chapes

Friendly correspondent Peter Woods is working with chapes or ferrules, that is, metal mounts from the ends of knife sheaths or sword scabbards. He has sent me lovely images of these things in the hope that Aard’s readers might be able to suggest parallels. Neither of the finds has any solid provenance, and though I believe them to be from north-west Europe and date from the 11th/12th centuries, I’ve never seen anything quite like them in my work with Scandinavian small finds. Being fragile yet excellently preserved, they’re almost certainly grave finds, not metal detector finds from plough soil. Note how the first three depict a quadruped animal looking back over its shoulder.

So, Dear Reader, where in the world and where in history do these intriguing things belong?

Update 24 June: Here’s the available provenance info, such as it is. A&B: a Dutch antique dealer says that the family of a long dead collector says that he had been told that they came from southern Sweden. 32 is from east Kent in south-east England. 12 is from north-east England where a small number of similar ones have been found.


Chape A
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Chape B
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Chape 32
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Chape 12
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Twitter Conversations Scare Off Followers

Using the @johndoe method to communicate over Twitter is a really stupid way to use the medium. Aren”t people aware that all their followers receive those tweets just as if they were normal ones? And aren’t they aware that many of their followers will thus receive only half of a usually pretty pointless chat conversation? It’s as if the newsreader on TV left his mike on and broadcast his lines in a water-cooler conversation about sports.

I think this behaviour is amazingly stupid. If I subscribe to a Twitter feed and discover that it’s full of banal lines from one-on-one conversations, I just unsubscribe. Discuss!

Update immediately afterwards: Aha! The amazingly stupid one turns out to be me! If you look at somebody’s Twitter home page, you see everything they tweet, including @ replies. But if you add them to your feed, those tweets are suppressed. So in order to find out if somebody’s feed is worthwhile despite all their chatter, you have to subscribe for a while. Thanks to Dayna for setting me straight.

Update same evening: Still, if you have a Twitter conversation with someone, the entire exchange will show up in the feed of everybody who follows both of you guys. So the rule is nevertheless, make sure every tweet you send is intelligible and worthwhile as a piece of standalone text, even if it’s a reply to somebody else’s tweet.

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Swype: Fast Text Input for Android

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For me, the main drawback of switching to an Android phone was not having a physical keyboard any more. Typing on the touch screen keyboard is infuriatingly slow and error-prone, even if you use the word-suggestion feature. (It isn’t very smart, offering word suggestions not in order of how frequent each word is in everyday text, but in alphabetical order.)

But now it seems I’ve found the solution, that allows me to type fast in English and a few other large languages. Swype is an input method where you write each word by drawing a continuous line on the soft keyboard from key to key. When you lift your finger from the screen, Swype figures out what word you meant. Fast! The image above shows somebody writing the word “quick”. If Swype gets confused it offers word suggestions. You don’t even need to press space between words. Check it out!

Via Paddy K.

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Invasive Species and Botanical Xenophobia

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Summer temp journalists are here again. Today, Swedish Broadcasting’s radio news ran a really silly piece about invasive species. It made two main points: a new foreign species of plant or animal is discovered every month in Sweden, and some of them are poisonous. It’s basically a case of botanical xenophobia. The journalist also made the astonishing claim that these poisonous species pose a threat to the country’s biodiversity!

Poisonous plants and venomous animals are rare in Sweden, whose flora and fauna are quite poor because of the cold climate. On the other hand they are common in rich tropical biotopes. And the reason that biodiversity is plummeting in the Amazon certainly isn’t the presence of venomous frogs.

Invasive species of course increase an area’s biodiversity, at least in the short-term perspective. People are looking at ecology on the wrong scale level. Wait a thousand years before you decide whether a new arrival is good or bad. Almost all of Scandinavia was under two kilometres of ice until 10,000 years ago, which means that our ecosystem is a recent cobbling together of whatever species happened to be available when the ice melted. Nature’s way is continuous change. And to see a stable ecosystem re-established now, people would simply have to move out.

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