December Pieces Of My Mind

  • I wonder if Chuck Berry likes death metal.
  • Windows 8 is amazingly bad. It’s so complicated and sluggish that it has to display a progress bar when you delete or move a file locally.
  • Interesting ethno-political misunderstanding, all my fault. Chinese Swedish dude says he doesn’t like the traditional Swedish Christmas buffet. I agree with him, so I comment briefly that he should check if the restaurant has some good Chinese food instead. An on-looker interprets my comment to mean “Why don’t you just go back to China if you hate our traditional culture so much”.
  • Student shows me the design he’s found for his planned tattoo: a sheep skull superimposed upon five pentagram-like occult summoning circles. “Very Satanic”, I comment. “Are you into Black Metal?” “Satanic?” he replies. “I just think those are pretty designs. And I only listen to Simon & Garfunkel.”
  • I peer reviewed this really poorly argued and aggressive debate paper. If it had been supportive of my own views I would have recommended the journal’s editor to turn it down. Instead I pointed out the weakest spots, explained why they didn’t work and recommended publish-after-rewrite. Because I don’t want to use what little influence I have to silence oppositional grad students.
  • Our bedside lamp has a dimmer switch. In order to remember what way it turns, I have redefined the lamp to myself as a darkness faucet. If I open the faucet, more darkness comes out of it.
  • My 10-y-o self is staring in mute horror over my shoulder at the screen as I type this. But really, I have no yearning whatsoever to see the second Hobbit movie.
  • Cheddar Man lived long before the first cheese was made in Britain.
  • Someone should publish a lavish coffee-table book with great big photographs of Pitted Ware Culture seal-person idols.
  • The only phrase you really need to know in Spanish is La bellota del perro ciego es mas grande que dos casas y azul. Just say that and people will no longer try to talk to you.
  • Swedish is a weird language though. One common word contains the letter string UBBSSY.
  • Physics: handmaiden to archaeology.
  • Excellent story of squid psychology, squid philosophy and the Cold War.
  • Schimmel means “mold” in German and Danish. In Swedish it means “dappled horse”.
  • I read the famous 1967 sf anthology Dangerous Visions and enjoyed it except for the homophobia. It is commonly seen as ushering in a new era in sf. But I began reading, including sf and including some pretty weird 70s stuff, as a child in the early 80s. So I kind of see Dangerous Visions as normal sf.
  • German Twisted Sister cover band: “Wehrmacht Gonna Take It”
  • I guess it’s nice if Putin pardons the punk musicians. But it would be way nicer if Russia had a robust non-corrupt system of justice where the president was legally unable to influence cases either way.
  • In school we were taught to sing “Basin Street Blues”. Now I learn that it’s a nostalgic tribute to a demolished prostitution quarter. The one where jazz music was invented. You listened to jazz music before you paid to jazz with the staff.
  • I got dad skills: taught Jrette to squeeze orange peels next to a candle flame for mini fireworks.
  • My neck starts hurting when I wear industrial hearing protectors that are slightly too tight. Weird. I wear them when the others watch TV.
  • A somewhat over-comprehensive roleplaying game supplement of my boyhood had descriptions of fantasy-world diseases, including sexually transmitted ones: flåpinne, “flay rod”, and skrevsvamp, “crotch fungus”.
  • Cell phone provider’s ad campaign: “A lot of people think we have good coverage!” The reality of that is a simple empirical matter. Tell us instead if you actually have good coverage. Or are you bargaining that people won’t understand the difference?
  • Earl Grey means Beer Object in Swedish.
  • The colleagues for whom I’m temping this semester didn’t get the research funding they’d applied for. So it looks like I won’t be coming much to Umeå after January. I’ll miss the students. But it will give me time to use my own research funding.
  • “To skulk” is cognate with Swedish skolka, to skip school. The Swedish word once also meant “to skulk”, which is what school skippers did.
  • Annoying change in the user interface of bikes: when I learned to use 3-speed bike gears, you slackened the wire to gear up, but on new bikes you tighten the wire to gear up.
  • The municipality tells me that it’s environmentally better to cart my food waste off to a bio gas plant than to compost it on site. OK.
  • There’s the Aladdin box of chocolate with mixed light and dark chocolate. It’s OK. Then there’s the far superior Paradis box of chocolate with light ones only. But today I saw a new, redundant and repugnant version. An Aladdin box with dark chocolates only. The anti-Paradis.
  • Jrette and I are reading Allie Finkle’s Rules For Girls, taking turns to read a page out loud each. The kid astonishes me with her pronunciation and vocabulary. Apparently she’s picked it up from watching YouTube videos about make-up for East Asian women and about baking. And she’s cracked the insane code of English spelling.
  • My forthcoming poetry collection is titled Porn Stars Don’t Get Dingleberries.
  • A friend accused me of “hipster cynicism”. True, I am cynical about many things that lots of people hold sacred. But this is the first time that anyone’s called me a hipster.
  • We used to have xenophobes sprinkled thinly throughout a bunch of political parties. Now they have separated into a party of their own, taking their votes with them. I wonder what’s better for democracy. It’s much easier to see what they’re doing now. The media are completely merciless with them.
  • Attention please. Public service announcement. The missing socks are inside duvet covers in the bed linen cupboard. That is all. Now carry on.
  • The computer I use one day a week at the editorial office is almost eight years old. Its hardware is working fine. But the version of Mac OS that it can run is increasingly ignored by software developers. And so my software options are becoming more and more limited. If I asked for a new machine I’d get one in no time. But that would go against my environmentalist principles. Don’t know when to make the switch.
  • The men of my tribe used to hunt the aurochs, wild boar and brown bear. Fearsome beasts, wily and powerful. Then came the Neolithic. Now we’re all just cereal killers.
  • I can’t remember seeing any of my friends drunk since we were 25. To my knowledge none of my friends has a substance abuse problem. Yet they have the means and legal opportunity to buy pretty much any amount of hard liquor they might like. And I suddenly realised that if we legalised and taxed all the least addictive and lethal street drugs and made them available in the state monopoly’s bottle shops — then my friends’ intoxication habits would be highly unlikely to change much. But my friends are not representative of the population at large, and their restrained behaviour when I see them may not be representative of their general lifestyle.
  • Jrette has never been taught to believe in Santa Claus, but she really likes the Swedish Santa charade where someone dresses up like the Patron Saint of Presents and comes in with a sack. To my surprise, this year the 10-y-o took the full consequence of this and played the Santa part herself with great gusto. Santa gave me a box of milk chocolates.
  • Haha, the Plume Twitter client for Android plays sleigh bells instead of a bird whistle as its alert noise during Christmas!
  • Swedish Christmas food is basically pickled lard. So I’m already preparing the remedial chick pea curry for tomorrow.
  • Noël is the remains of Latin natalis, “of birth”. French is a sad, sad language.
  • Awesome: countertenor who looks like an archivist sings Mary’s part in Bach’s Christmas Oratory with huge sensitivity and the trumpet is a pre-valve Baroque model. Lots of people too.
  • There’s a death metal band named PATRONYMICON. Reee-spect to nerdy, intellectual, humorous metalheads!
  • Astrophobos, my bro’s band, are releasing their first full-length album any day now. I have a copy. Tight and murderous black metal with Lovecraftian lyrics.
  • Usually, scholars take sabbatical leave from teaching when they get an opportunity to do research. With me it’s the other way around.
  • The thriller I’m reading has begun to idle. Two of the good guys have been imprisoned by the bad guys, and repeatedly the author lets the reader believe for a while that they’re going to break free. But the reader knows that there’s 70 pages left, nobody breaks free, and the plot isn’t advancing. The author is clearly just playing these tricks in order to reach a suitable page count before the ending scenes. It’s the story of a parrot smuggling operation gone wrong because the parrots turn out to carry a lethal tropical disease and two of the bird salesmen turn out to be murderous psychopaths.
  • Turned on the computer to write a blog entry about my gaming group but realised that I already wrote that in 2011.
  • Good grief, it gets worse. The book I ordered only to find that there’s a copy at our local library. Now my wife tells me that she gave that copy to the library after reading it. The book has in fact spent weeks or months in our house without me picking up on it as anything I might want to look at.
  • I wonder if mascarptwo is going to be as good as mascarpone.
  • My wife was saying how she loves champagne. I told her she’s dry, cold and free. Then I apologized.
  • Reading about early-17th century Sweden. Depressing stuff. The kingdom had this huge logistical apparatus to bring Swedish peasants to the war zone on the Continent as soldiers. But once they arrived, most died of diseases in the military camps without ever seeing action. So pointless. The wars weren’t fought over any issues that the peasantry cared about. And during the best periods, these men stood a 40% chance of ever returning home.

29 thoughts on “December Pieces Of My Mind

  1. In Danish “skimmel” also means “dappled horse”. Just one of the ways we try to confuse foreigners and keep them from learning the language. Often we add “svamp” (fungus) if it’s mold.


  2. = Light dimmers: water faucets don’t help me either, because I’m dyslexic and my faucets are not consistent. Instead I use a simple graphic showing a small dot at one position and a larger dot at another position, on an arc of approx. 1/3 of a circle. But I also think your dimmer is wired in reverse: rotating it clockwise should increase light. This should be easy to fix with a soldering iron.

    = Food waste: Composting in your back yard releases methane, a more potent (though shorter-lived) greenhouse gas. Your cleansing department’s biogas plant burns the methane as natural gas, converting each molecule of methane to two CO2, reducing the immediate climate impact.

    = Legalization of cannabis will likely shift some quantity of intoxicant consumption from alcohol to cannabis. In the USA this will reduce random violent crime, because alcohol is notorious for causing combative behavior, whereas cannabis typically produces passivity.

    = Stick with Windows7 until Microsoft fixes the remaining issues with Windows8. For your 8-year-old Mac, upgrade to the latest version of OSX it will support, and then don’t worry about subsequent application updates. Tell your Mac-using colleagues that when they send you documents, they should use their software’s conversion features to render the docs into whatever earlier versions you can read on your software. We really do need a social movement to resist the relentless obsolescence of computer hardware and insist on longer-lived devices and software standards.


    • The typical victim of street violence in Stockholm is a drunk young man. And the typical perpetrator is also a drunk young man. And the typical crime scene is the sidewalk outside a bar.


  3. In which case, if you legalized & regulated marijuana, including letting people smoke it at pubs, you would probably see a substantial decline in violent crime. This is a pre/post experiment that’s worth doing. (We will shortly begin to observe results here in the USA states of Washington and Colorado that have legalized it.)

    It would also be interesting to know more about the conversations or other interactions that preceded the fights. I’d hypothesise that the largest category of these in some way involves the issue of competition for mating privileges with desirable partners.


    • My guess is that a lot of those bar fights occur between young males who are disappointed because other guys are already on their way home with the desirable partners.


  4. The story of your friend’s tattoo makes me wonder how many supposedly cultic depictions in prehistoric art were made because they look cool — they still do.

    I’ve always thought that French must have suffered from widespread illiteracy followed by a long period of near-illiteracy: people barely learned the alphabet and spelled everything they’d learned only by hearing it, reflecting local pronunciation rather than etymology. Even today spoken French blurs whole strings of phonemes into blobs of sound. No doubt this says something about the French character but I’m not sure what.


    • As I understand it, modern French spelling reflects 14th century pronunciation if you assume that each letter has the same sound value as in Medieval Latin. This suggests that by the time the French have begun spelling like they talk today, they will be speaking quite differently.


  5. “And during the best periods, these men stood a 40% chance of ever returning home.”-Tavlelsjö village got nearly depopulated of men during the 30-year-war. At the end they drafted kids once they turned 15

    “The thriller I’m reading has begun to idle”
    -Try the Jack Reacher books. A very Merican protagonist written by a Brit.Good reading.

    Unravelling mystical stuff: “Earthquake lights linked to rift environments, subvertical faults”


  6. “The colleagues for whom I’m temping this semester didn’t get the research funding they’d applied for.
    OK tell me which ones that need “leaning on” (grabs cudgel).


  7. And she’s cracked the insane code of English spelling.

    There are two reasons English spelling is as strange as it is. One is that English (alone among European languages) underwent a vowel shift after Gutenberg, so the vowels don’t have the sounds that are standard across the rest of Europe. As you mentioned with French, similarly with English: the spellings reflect how those words were pronounced circa 1500. The other is that English has borrowed so many words from so many different languages, with incompatible mappings between spoken and written language, that written English can’t be reconciled with itself. And that’s not even getting into the distinctions of UK English vs. US English. For example, if you pronounce the H in Birmingham, you mean the city in Alabama (if not otherwise specified); the H is not pronounced if you refer to the namesake city in the UK.

    It gets worse for cases like Chinese emigrants who spell their names according to the Pinyin system. Pinyin is a useful mapping system: it’s one-to-one if you include tone markers. But it’s different enough from standard English (X is borrowed from Portuguese, C is borrowed from Polish, and Q is a Chinese innovation, plus the tones) that hilarity frequently ensues when a clueless Anglophone attempts to pronounce a Chinese name.


  8. “I have redefined the lamp to myself as a darkness faucet.”

    Elegant & frugal!

    I was apprehensive about going to see The Hobbit too, but it was better than expected. It’s not Tolkien, but it’s still quite well done.


  9. The Welsh have a phonetically consistent spelling, but their letters apparently mean something different from other users of the latin letters.


  10. Birger & Kevin: French has been derided as “Latin in the mouths of Gauls”, and Welsh, as a half-baked attempt at a Romance tongue by their insular Celt cousins.


  11. (OT) Hemant Mehta, fellow blogger at The Friendly Atheist is “used as a boogeyman in fundraising appeals”. Why? He is part of “the sexual anarchy parade”.
    Goddamit, Martin. You have to start blogging more intensely or we will miss out on the sexual anarchy parade! I like the term “unrestrained gonads”, it sounds like something from the Scottish highlands. “The Unrestrained Gonads, on a tour with The sexual Anarchy Parade.”


  12. Love the comments/rants, particularly the Öl Grej remark; I am always tickled by the obscurity of Swenglish jokes.

    I just wish I could remember the exact search I used to come across your blog – it was while looking up a strange Swedish term (I’m a translator), and despite the fact that I’m also a geocacher and game player with an archaeology background, which you’d think would have led me here, I have a feeling it was actually something about donkeys.


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