Most-played Boardgames of 2011

When a buddy of mine learned that I keep stats on the boardgames I play, she said, “If I didn’t know you, Martin, I’d say you probably suffered from Asperger’s syndrome.” But hey, Boardgamegeek.com has a nifty book-keeping function, and I enjoy keeping notes! Here are the ten games I’ve played the most during 2011, all highly recommended.

These are mostly shorter games as such have a greater likelihood of getting played several times in one evening. The three longer ones that I have played the most are Death Angel, Acquire and Settlers of Catan. I’ve played 75 different games this year. Looking back since mid-2008, the number is 134.

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Best Reads of 2011

Here are my best reads in English during 2011. I only read 38 books this year (blame the Internet), which is why the really good ones are fewer than usual.

  • Bonk. The curious coupling of sex and science. Mary Roach 2008. A charming look at the history of sex research.
  • The Culture of Fear. Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things. Barry Glassner 1999. If you don’t already hate the US media, this book will kindle the flame.
  • Joy in the Morning. P.G. Wodehouse 1946. Extremely witty and extremely unrealistic.
  • History and the Gods. An essay on the idea of historical events as divine manifestations in the ancient Near East and in Israel. Bertil Albrektson 1967. You think Jahwe was the first god who communicated by military victory and drought?

What were your best reads of the year?

Here’s my list for 2010.

Aard Turns Five

I began blogging at Blogspot a bit more than six years ago. And five years ago to the day, Aard went live here on Sb! Blogging and the interaction with you, Dear Reader, are a continuing source of daily enjoyment to me.

But looking at the surroundings, things sure have changed at Sb in five years, though you can’t tell from the site design. Aard is one of the longest-running blogs still active here. These days I feel more like I’m at Blogspot again: works well, no frills, no fraternisation with the neighbours.

Sb is no longer a hip well-funded site that attracts big bloggers. We haven’t had a community manager in a long time. And indeed, the sense of Sb community is gone. The back-stage forum is deserted. I don’t know what half of the current blogs are like. Our new Overlords pay us about as little attention as the old ones did after they had to fire our last community manager Arikia. But the new guys have one huge advantage: financial solvency. Bloggers are getting paid on time (at 2006 rates). As the new Overlords can’t be seen to support aggressive atheism, we’ve lost almost all of PZ Myers’ spillover traffic. But my $50 a month were never a main motivation for my blogging. Anyway, I hear we’re set for a back-end and design upgrade sometime soonish.

Aard is currently ranked #19 in terms of traffic here, though the 18 blogs above it on the list include a number of defunct ones whose archives are still attracting major traffic despite their lack of new material. After Pharyngula, whose main existence continues elsewhere, our big cheeses right now are Starts With A Bang (est. January 2008) and Respectful Insolence (est. February 2006).

My To-Read Pile

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I’m spending this week in a semi-vegetative state: sleeping late, taking walks at noon with my wife & kids, eating chocolate, drinking tea, and reading. Here’s my late-2011 selection of reading matter.

  • Svavelvinter. Erik Granström 2004. Swedish fantasy.
  • Proggiga barnböcker – därför blev vi som vi blev. Kalle Lind 2010. About the pinko hippie children’s books of the 1970s.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Jules Verne 1870.
  • Night Train to Rigel. Timothy Zahn 2005. Scifi. (Thanks Birger!)
  • Kinarapport 2011 Yearbook. About China.
  • Diktaren pÃ¥ tronen. Michael Nordberg 2011. About 13th century Spain.
  • Discourses of Empire. Hans Leander 2011. My cousin’s theology dissertation.
  • Landskaparna: Utskrift 11. Halland province archaeology.
  • Sundry pop-sci archaeology mags.
  • Kapten Stofil, jultidning 2011. Swedish comics.
  • Sveriges Nationalatlas. SprÃ¥ken i Sverige. Eds. Östen Dahl & Lars-Erik Edlund 2010.
  • Zeroscape. Michael T. Gamble 2011. Techno thriller written by a physicist. (Review copy.)
  • Köttets poesi 2. Blodet i svensk text frÃ¥n Petrus de Dacia till Ivar Conradson. Eds. Carl-Michael Edenborg & Mattias Forshage 1997. Anthology of Swedish writings on blood through the ages. The first volume is about genitals.
  • The Chalk Circle Man. Fred Vargas 2009. French mystery.
  • Shadow of the Scorpion. Neal Asher 2008. Scifi. (Thanks Birger!)
  • And if I get tired of reading I can watch the old UK scifi series about Bernard Quatermass. (Thanks Birger!)

What are you reading apart from this blog entry, Dear Reader?

Rediscovering Ancient Landscape Rules

My current project on the siting of Bronze Age sacrificial sites aims to rediscover some of the the period’s landscape rules. In other words, I’m building an heuristic model which might allow archaeologists to search actively for such sites instead of waiting for farmers and drainage workers to find them by chance. I was encouraged to read the following in David Yates’ and Richard Bradley’s paper “The siting of metalwork hoards in the Bronze Age of south-east England” (Antiquaries Journal 90, 2010).

“For some time it has been obvious that metal detectorists have been extraordinarily fortunate in locating previously unrecorded hoards. The same people have found them on a number of different occasions. Discussions with the finders have made it clear that this did not happen by chance. Long before prehistorians had realized that the siting of hoards might follow topographic ‘rules’, metal detectorists had reached the same conclusion. Their ability to make new finds is the clearest indication of the usefulness of taking a fresh approach to this material.” (p. 30)

It’s a good paper. Drop me a line.

Boardgame Review: Place

i-ca82df7ee960957ba539e5e8153cfc82-placebox.pngPlace is a new Swedish boardgame, the first offering from Spelmakarna i Sverige Ltd who are based near my home. After reading about their product in the local paper, I asked them for a review copy, which they kindly delivered to my doorstep. (No, we’re not acquainted.)

It’s a geographical trivia game with five main parameters contributing to who wins.

1. The ability to recognise scenic places worldwide from pictures
2. The ability to place them correctly on the world map
3. The ability to answer trivia questions about the places
4. The ability to remember the answers to the questions
5. Blind luck

The game has an odd age recommendation: 15 or higher. This might suggest complicated rules, but no: they fit on half a piece of paper. Instead the age thing has to do with the fact that you need a pretty solid eduction to do well at parameters 1-3. My kids, 13 and 8, weren’t very good at those. But they each have a good memory, and the dice aren’t less friendly to them than to grownups. So what happened in our first test game was that Junior won through use of parameters 4 and 5. He remembered the answers to the questions and got lucky with the dice.

More importantly, both kids quite enjoyed playing the game despite not doing well at the aspects of it that I might consider important. The game is a good educational tool since it encourages memorisation of geo-trivia. So I suggest 10 years as the age recommendation for future print runs.

The graphic design and the selection of images are two of Place’s strengths. Very good-looking product. But I have issues with the trivia questions. They’re poorly copy-edited. They vary wildly in difficulty. And some are filler text with an unrelated question at the end. “Blah blah seed bank blah safeguard botanical diversity blah blah great big underground refrigerators. What’s the capital of Svalbard?”

I give the game a middling grade because winning it is to such a great extent based on chance rather than knowledge, and the strategic element is slight. The player who liked it the most in our group was 8-year-old Juniorette. But I realise that nobody in our group belongs to the target audience, half of us being grade schoolers and all of us being boardgame hobbyists with a taste for meatier strategy games.

Racist Eugenics Scholar Makes A Positive Difference

i-56a45a17d3642d03c3de790eb7975cc2-200px-Herman_Lundborg_(1868-1943).jpgThe memory of Herman Lundborg (1868-1943) is insolubly linked to the Swedish State Institute of Eugenics that he headed, and thus lives in infamy. Eugenics was the pseudoscientific belief that human populations deteriorated over time unless care was taken to weed out weak specimens and keep them from procreating. Somehow, these allegedly weak specimens tended to have foreign looks and/or a low income and education. But the social pseudo-Darwinism of the early 20th century explained that people were poor and uneducated because they were stupid, and they were stupid because they had bad genes. Bad blood. They needed to be culled from the flock, or more humanely, sterilised, not necessarily with their informed consent.

The other day I learned, by chance, that Herman Lundborg actually managed to solve a serious public health problem, thus performing a great and lasting service to the inhabitants of a small part of Sweden. This was the Lister peninsula in Blekinge province (incidentally home of the Viking chieftain Krok in the childhood home of Red Orm, hero of F.G. Bengtsson’s immortal novel The Long Ships).

Unverricht-Lundborg disease is a rare genetic condition, also known as Baltic Epilepsy. It is a form of progressive myoclonic epilepsy that leads to early dementia. First described in Estonia by Heinrich Unverricht in the 1890s, it was found to be endemic in Lister as well (just across the Baltic Sea). Herman Lundborg’s award-winning 1901 MD thesis dealt with myoclonic epilepsy and demonstrated that Baltic Epilepsy is a recessive Mendelian trait, much like blue eyes. Recessive traits are only expressed if you get two copies of them at conception. The reason that people in Lister were so afflicted was that they commonly married their cousins to avoid splitting up land holdings. This was nothing unusual in rural Sweden, but it had tragic consequences for isolated gene pools that had acquired a recessive trait like that of Unverricht-Lundborg disease. Lundborg’s results were communicated to the people of Lister, they changed their marriage customs, and the disease disappeared in a generation.

Where Herman Lundborg went wrong was in his wider interpretation of what the Lister case meant. He believed that it demonstrated the kind of genetic deterioration that demanded a eugenic response. But in fact, such deterioration does not exist and the problem didn’t really lay with the Lister people’s genetic makeup. It lay with their social anthropology. From the point of view of “racial purity”, few populations could beat the Lister people since they were so unwilling to mix. If Lundborg had not looked at his scientific data through racist glasses, he would easily have understood that his work made a strong case for international intermarriage, not for any controlled breeding of Swedish peasant stock.

Welcome to Sweden, little Christina, whom my friends Martin & Nanna have just adopted from Lesotho.

Take Cover, Yacht Cover Aloft

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The Dear Reader may remember that I recently reported from the hibernation grounds of the local yachting club. Here’s a photograph from the same site, taken by my dad. It demonstrates why you might want to weigh the winter cover for your boat down with water tanks like everybody except this one member has.

Six Years Of Blogging

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Today is my sixth birthday as a blogger! Normally these days I would use Twitter and Facebook for such a brief message, but it is after all blog-related.

Here also are the latest pics of an Aard reader wearing one of the blog t-shirts (order here). Andrew Broome is a culinary engineer based in Palmerston North, New Zealand. He comments on the pic below that the spot is “probably as far away from you as it’ll ever get, short of being sent into space” — Bluff, SNZ is the southernmost town in the country. Thanks Andrew! I really want to go to NZ.

Dear Reader, keep those comments and t-shirt/mug pics coming!

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Update next day: Here are my annual traffic stats (mean uniques).

  • 2006: 157 daily readers
  • 2007: 852 daily readers
  • 2008: 937 daily readers
  • 2009: 714 daily readers
  • 2010: 1005 daily readers
  • 2011: 906 daily readers (updated on 1 Jan.)

The figure for 2011 should be seen against the background that in early August, the overall hit rate for the entire ScienceBlogs network dropped almost by half because the Pharyngulites left. Pharyngula is still available on Sb, but it’s a sanitised subset of PZ’s feed, missing the aggressive anti-religion material that our new Overlords can’t condone. Consequently, the casual spillover traffic from Pharyngula to other Sb blogs has shrunk dramatically. I don’t mind much, since I mainly care about attracting and keeping a regular readership.

How To Plot A Coordinate Dataset In Google Maps

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As an archaeologist I often need to plot coordinates on maps and plans. At every scale, really: from individual finds on the plan of an excavation trench to the distribution of something across Europe. Just dots of varying shapes and colours on various background maps. Most often, it’s GPS data from field walking and metal detecting. My colleagues in contract archaeology and academe use ArcInfo for these things, but I’ve never had incentive or opportunity to learn to use it. Also, once you know the software, you still need a map to plot stuff on, and those are expensive. So I’ve been wondering if I could somehow plot my coordinate data via Google Docs in Google Maps. Free software, free maps, free updated aerial photographs.

Turns out, you can. And today I figured out how. I believe it was David Petts who nudged me in the direction of Google’s “Fusion Tables”. And Hans Persson (who is an inveterate geocacher) asked me to write my findings up on Aard.

1. Data formatting
Convert your coordinate data to decimal lat & long after the WGS84 datum and with a decimal dot, not the Swedish decimal comma. For instance, my house is at lat 59.289576 long 18.258234. Call the northings column “Latitude” and the eastings column “Longitude”. (There are Excel macros to do coordinate conversions. For the Swedish systems, I find Robert Larsson’s on-line conversion utility handy, though it doesn’t do batch jobs.)

You may also want to add a “Text” column to describe what each point marks, and an “Icon” column that takes entries like “small_red” and “large_blue”.

(The Map function is pretty smart and also happily works with street addresses or place names if you put them in a “Location” column.)

2. Where to put the data
Stick this data into a spreadsheet in Google Docs. Save and close the spreadsheet.

3. Plot your dots
Now click the Create button on the start page of Docs and select “Table (beta)”. Tell the software to grab the data from the Docs spreadsheet you just created. (At this stage you can also tell it to disregard any extraneous data columns.) I don’t quite know how to conceptualise the distinction between these tables and standard Docs spreadsheets. But for practical purposes, tables are useful because (unlike spreadsheets) they have a Visualize menu including a Map alternative. Use it and zoom in on your area of interest.

4. Colour your dots
At first, all of your dots will be small and red. To get the software to use the data you entered into the “Icon” column, (such as “large_blue”), click “Configure styles”, change the “Marker icon” settings to “Column”, and select “Icon”.

Tell me how you’re doing with this, Dear Reader, and I’ll update the entry as I learn more. The first thing I want to find out now is how to create a dynamic link between my spreadsheet and the map, so that any changes to the data appear automatically on my maps. At the moment I have to make a new table every time I change the spreadsheet. Also, the only way I currently know of to get maps out of the software is screen grab, which doesn’t make for great resolution.