Let’s Talk About Kachingle

The Kachingle social micropayment site has been nagging me periodically for the past year. It’s something along the lines of Flattr, and finally I thought OK, let’s try this out. All they want from me is my email address and my permission. And would you believe it – I just got a US cent. Micropayment indeed. Looking at their web site it seems that there’s a way to make those cents arrive more often by installing a clickable widget. But it looks a lot like the only way for me to get that widget is to start putting money into the system myself as a subscriber. Pyramid scheme, much?

So, Dear Reader, what can you tell me about Kachingle?

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Japanese Robot Development Driven By Xenophobia

Reading a term paper by one of my Växjö students, I learned something surprising.

Being a well-read and erudite sort, Dear Reader, you may not be surprised. You already know that Japanese women have been having very few babies each since the 1950s, and that thus there’s a growing shortage of strong young people to work in the care for the elderly. It has gone so far, and the prognosis is so dire, that the Japanese electronics industry is busy developing robots to care for old folks.

What I learned is that the problem is really one of xenophobia. All of Japan’s neighbouring countries across the sea have a completely different demography and offer an endless supply of nursing staff. But it’s politically impossible to lower the bar for entry onto the Japanese labour market. Foreign nursing certificates aren’t recognised. The Japanese voter prefers to have simple automatons caring for grandma when the alternative is a darker-complexioned Philippine person who doesn’t speak Japanese.

Seen from the larger ecological perspective, Japan is simply an isolated human population that is not reproducing well and so will soon be unable to fill its niche. I’m pretty sure neighbouring populations will redress this imbalance within a few decades.

Avuncular

Teaching 20-year-olds for the past term has begun to make me feel a little avuncular. But yesterday I had this sudden surge in my avuncularity. First, in the morning I finally took the step of shaving the sparse fuzz remaining on my forehead all the way up to the coronal suture. (That’s the lateral seam in your skull that you feel if you put three fingertips between your eyebrows and slide them up to the top of your head.) To salvage a little dignity, I’ve always been one step ahead of the male pattern baldness.

Then I talked to the heat pump repairman (31) about what it’ll be like for him to have his first baby in a few weeks (my first kid arrived in ’98 and is currently 6′ tall and counting). Then I ran into the new neighbour (28) and talked to him about how three out of four members of his mini-commune are vegans or vegetarians. And finally my 20-y-o niece showed up.

I should buy a cardigan and a briar-root pipe and start practicing my kindly guffaw.

Fornvännen’s Summer Issue On-Line

A teenage boy carved this imagery, along with some lines of runic script copied from a book, onto a Viking Period whetstone he found in a Sigtuna spoil dump.

Read it all on-line, Open Access!

  • Lars Larsson presents some Late Palaeolithic antler artefacts from Scania.
  • Olle Andersson makes and tests lots and lots of spearheads to investigate how the Iron Age ones found at Uppåkra got all bent and curled up.
  • Helmer Gustavson announces the confession of the man who faked the Sigtuna runic whetstone, and looks at how scholars have dealt with this strange object in their writings.
  • Timo Salminen investigates the professional relationship between two great archaeologists of the past, Ella Kivikoski in Finland and Harri Moora in Estonia, and their contacts with Scandinavia.
  • Jan Gullman and Aard regular Christina Reid look deep into an Iron Age weight system.
  • Påvel Nicklasson publishes and comments on some of 19th century antiquarian Nils Henrik Sjöborg’s poetry – which thereby sees print for the first time in the man’s home country.

Also a big and feisty debate section, and interesting book reviews.

New Dates for the Bronze Age

When I was an undergrad in 1990 we were taught that all six periods of the Scandinavian Bronze Age were 200 (or in one case 300) years long. The most recent radiocarbon work shows that they all had different lengths and were more likely 130-280 years long. And the periods with the most abundant metalwork finds, II and V, are the two shortest. So their previously known status as metal-rich eras looks even more pronounced now, and the intervening periods look even poorer.

Per. I. 1700-1500 cal BC (200 yrs)
Per. II. 1500-1330 (170 yrs)
Per. III. 1330-1100 (230 yrs)
Per. IV. 1100-950/20 (165 yrs)
Per. V. 950/20-800 (135 yrs)
Per. VI. 800-530/20 (275 yrs)

Each of these periods translates to a list of artefact and monument types that are commonly found together. Their relative ordering through time has been known since the 1880s. Current work looks at the absolute dates at which these typological laundry lists were current. It uses a new technology, radiocarbon dating of cremated bone, and new applications of Bayesian statistics, which allow us to constrain the uncertainty of the radiocarbon results using stratigraphical observations. The latter means that if we know that grave B was later than grave A because one sat on top of the other, then we can tell the software to disregard parts of the probability distributions that gainsay this observation.

Hornstrup, K.M et al. 2012. A New Absolute Danish Bronze Age Chronology As Based On Radiocarbon Dating Of Cremated Bone Samples From Burials. Acta Archaeologica 83. Copenhagen.

Best Danefae of 2012

Most prosperous countries have legislation for what kinds of archaeological finds a citizen has to hand in to the authorities. In Denmark, still using a Medieval term, such finds are termed danefae, “property of the dead”. And here is Danish TV4’s list of the top-10 such finds of 2012. All but one of them have been handed in by detectorists, and two by Swedish detectorists operating in Denmark because of Sweden’s restrictive rules!

It wouldn’t really be worthwhile to make a top-10 like this for Sweden, as the pretty gold & silver metalwork they concentrate on in the program is usually found detectorists, and we don’t allow the honest ones to go looking in Sweden. The reason that precious metals are so interesting to archaeologists isn’t their market value, but their resistance to corrosion. Most of the beautiful craftsmanship of the past has disintegrated or become unrecognisable. But the precious metalwork endures unchanged.

Thanks to Morten Axboe and Tobias Bondesson for the tip-off.

Hindawi Responds

Paul Peters, Hindawi Publishing

The Scholarly Open Access web site says that Open Access journal house Hindawi Publishing may show some predatory characteristics. I’ve simply called Hindawi “dodgy”. Their Chief Strategy Officer Paul Peters commented here on the blog and then swiftly replied to some questions of mine, showing that the firm realises that its on-line reputation is important to success. Here’s what Mr. Peters says.

MR: Why did Hindawi’s Journal of Archaeology go on-line months before it had any papers?

This is generally the case for all new journals that we launch, and I believe it is quite common among other publishers as well. Having the website publicly available at the time that we open the journal for submission enables potential authors to see the list of Editorial Board Members and read over the journal’s author guidelines prior to submitting their manuscript.

[MR comments: The typical way to launch an academic journal is actually for the Editor-in-Chief to use their network to solicit papers for the first issue and go public when it’s been completed. If the initiative comes from a publisher, they will ask the Editor-in-Chief to do precisely this.]

MR: Why doesn’t the JoA have an Editor-in-Chief?

The Journal of Archaeology does not have an Editor-in-Chief since it uses a distributed editorial model in which each submitted manuscript is assigned to an appropriate Editorial Board Member based on their area of expertise, and then the Editorial Board Member takes full control of the review process for that manuscript. Our staff perform an initial check at the point of submission to check for potential cases of plagiarism or other academic misconduct, and then they assign the manuscript to the most appropriate editor, after checking to make sure that there is no obvious conflict of interest between the authors of the submitted manuscript and the Editor who it is assigned to. A full description of the journal’s editorial workflow can be found on the journal website.

[MR comments: So it’s not quite true that the JoA has no Editor-in-Chief. It has 71 independent Editors-in-Chief that don’t necessarily know each other, each of whom is putting their reputation at the mercy of all the other 70. And the person at the publishing house who selects which editor is competent to judge a given manuscript and select referees does not themself know anything about the subject.]

MR: Why did Hindawi’s Journal of Environmental and Public Health publish this infamously bad alternative medicine paper by Chevalier et al.? It suggests that this journal sees little or no peer review.

This manuscript underwent a full review process, as is the case with every article that we publish. We publish the name of the Editor who was responsible for handling each published article, and in this case the manuscript was recommended for publication by Dr Gerry Schwalfenberg from the University of Alberta (see a list of Dr Schwalfenberg’s recent publications), who was one of the Guest Editors of the Special Issue in which this article was published.

I do agree that the concept of “Earthing” is not a very widely accepted medical practice, however unless we have reason to believe that there was any academic misconduct during the peer review process, we are not in any position to overrule the editorial decisions of our Academic Editors and peer reviewers.

[MR comments: Gerry Schwalfenberg seems to be an open-minded sort of fellow with an interest in dietary supplements. On one hand he has published a paper in Hindawi’s abovementioned JEPH suggesting that vitamin D deficiency might cause autoimmune diseases. This is a fringe idea. On the other hand, he’s co-author of a PLoS paper documenting the presence of toxic elements in alternative medication. I’ll ask him to comment on the Chevalier et al. “earthing” paper.]

Saltsjöbaden Train / House Crash

Damn, I must have ridden those very train carriages thousands of times! The crash happened just four stops up the commuter train line from where I live. My wife and I went there this morning with our camera. Details here.

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Update 21 January: On the basis of first reports and information from a former railway employee, I thought this was an ostentatious suicide attempt. Now there are indications that it was a horrific accident caused by the unsanctioned habits of train drivers. Apparently they routinely jury-rig the safety apparatus for convenience, and in cold weather, to keep the brakes from freezing stuck. This works fine as long as only trained drivers come near the controls. But the cleaning ladies don’t receive any driver’s training, and they too have to enter the cramped cockpit.

December Pieces of My Mind

Selected Facebook updates:

  • Dreamed that a podcaster had mixed ham, celery and rice crispies into my favorite tea leaves. Was very angry.
  • Green tea leaves accumulate in our house way faster than we use them. Bothers my logistics brain.
  • Misread a headline on a lady’s magazine. “A Retro-Style Wedding” became “A Hetero-Style Wedding”.
  • Genital lambada, Sw. könslambada. That’s what exceptionally witty Black Metal blogger Hatpastorn calls it.
  • I just realised that penguins are aquatic polar dinosaurs. Darwin FTW!
  • The Mandelbrot set has the nicest ass in all of mathematics.
  • Swedish internet users are stupid. Their most common searches are for Facebook, the Aftonbladet newspaper and Youtube. They don’t type this into the URL window of their browsers and click the popup URL. They search for these sites.
  • Why are the Swedish words for “the sweater” and “that damned pine cone” so similar?
  • “You’re very good in bed too. And above all, you’re very often in bed.”
  • The opening movement of Tubular Bells is in 15/8 time. You gotta love 70s music. Mike Oldfield was 19 when he recorded that album.
  • The hair at the small of my back is now way longer than the hair on my head has ever been.
  • I’m such a lapsed Tolkienian that I had to check Wikipedia for the name of Alatar the Blue Wizard. This reminds me of the day when I realised that I no longer remembered what songs are on Depeche Mode’s album Black Celebration.
  • Wife: “‘Ethiopian cooking sucks’, he said, adding insult to injera.”
  • In order to keep the allitteration, the Swedish title of The Wind in the Willows translates as “There Is A Soughing In The Rushes”.
  • I don’t understand the purpose of the little embarkation and disembarkation forms that certain countries make you fill out before passport control at airports. What’s their real purpose? Most of the information you just copy from your passport. (And let’s not even ponder why the US asks if I’m a terrorist and the People’s Republic of China asks if I’m psychotic.)
  • Egyptologists find it hard to distinguish between the erotic and the hieratic.
  • A man told me that he was a management consultant for a finance company. I didn’t know what either term meant.
  • My loose Moroccan change. Being an archaeologist I find it hard to throw coins into the trash. But I had an idea. I’m dropping them into the sandbox at the playground.