March Pieces Of My Mind #1

  • How come we have any idea of the diameter of the Oort cloud? And how does it relate spatially to the Kuiper belt?
  • Ridiculous tiny Mac keyboard. No F keys, no delete key, tiny cursor movement keys.
  • Research is a pretty open-ended activity that demands a certain amount of creativity. Among the many advantages of my part-time editorial job are that I’ve got it almost entirely scripted, what I should do first is almost always clear and it demands no creativity whatsoever. Guaranteed productivity regardless of mood.
  • Jrette asks me why Småland province, “Little Land”, is actually extremely large relative to other landskap provinces on her map. I explain that it used to be called The Little Lands and consisted of twelve mini-provinces.
  • “The climate was warm and the colors bewildering, and everyone thought we were gods.” R. Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber
  • Sometimes a person’s voice gives you an entirely wrong idea about their looks. I was just astonished to see a pic of Planet Money reporter Zoe Chace. I was expecting Queen Latifa.
  • Ten years ago I reviewed a book in a magazine. My verdict was extremely unfavourable. Now somebody calls me because they want to get in touch with the author of the book. And they have got the names mixed up, believing that the book was written by one Martin Rundkvist. When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
  • Jrette: “You’re a girl, Dad. You’ve just got this weird pimple between your legs.”
  • I really hope you know how to make your word processing software flow the text according to the size of your editing window, not the margins of the physical page.
  • What we need is more poets who are willing to rhyme “weeping willow” with “armadillo”.
  • Today’s random sentence from Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser: “The air was very still.”
  • I just learned something I’ve wondered about for a long time. Until recently, no airplanes had motorised wheels. Taxiing around on the ground still almost exclusively involves a plane’s flight engines.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

36 thoughts on “March Pieces Of My Mind #1”

  1. Genetic astrology:

    To me, human origins, ancient human migrations and where we all came from is infinitely fascinating. I don’t actually care what the answer is, I just want to know for the sake of knowing.

    But who the hell cares who my ancestors were? I don’t. I don’t get this genealogy stuff at all. If I was a race horse or a prize winning dairy cow it might matter.


  2. The Kuiper belt has been less affected by glacatic tidal effects than the distant Oort cloud. The latter has its orbital paths randomized to the point that they do not even remotely stick to the orbital plane of the rest of the solar system.

    The Kuiper belt objects mostly formed in situ, apart from a “scattered disc” component that has either very elliptic orbits or orbits angled up from the ecliptic -an effect of gravitational interactions with Uranus and Neptune sometime in the past (those two planets started up closer to the sun).

    The Oort cloud is mostly made up from small objects that were throen out by Jupiter or Saturn. Since they are more massive, those perturbations either threw the small objects from the solar system altogether, or had the power to throw them much farther out than the Kuiper belt.

    Objects from either group mostly consist of volatile substances including frozen water. When they come closer to the sun, the material turns to vapor and you get a comet.


  3. John, it might just matter if I could point to a burial cairn/mastaba/tunnel complex and say “look, my ancestor Sveinfeig built that!”.
    — — — — — — — —
    Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser inspired the first short stories by Pratchett that became the first discworld novel.
    Fritz Leiber’s fantasy stories have not aged well.
    — — — — — — — —
    Nine Princes in Amber -the princes could use the multiverse as a storage house, getting any item they wanted. It reminds me of the virtual armoury in Matrix.


  4. In the case of the above quotation, the item they fetched was a large army of well-trained religious fanatics.


  5. (OT, but fun) -Right Wing Watch quoted [dumb guy] verbatim saying that those who run universities should be taken out and shot. And by quoting [dumb guy], he now says it amounts to proof those evil libruls are out to smear and destroy the Cristians. At a certain level, stupidity gets entertaining.


  6. Oort cloud diameter… I think you can derive that from the orbits of extremely long-term comets. They go so far out that other stars often pass inside the cloud, but the brief gravitational disturbances from that do not affect cometary orbits. Space is BIG.. And so are the time scales.


  7. …And you probably have several Earth’s worth of mass out in the “scattered disc” component of the Kuiper belt alone. If you are willing to wait ten thousand years you could literally build a new world from scratch.


  8. “Until recently, no airplanes had motorised wheels” because of the weight penalty. And when the planes land, the wheels have to come up to speed in a split second, by friction at touchdown. The rubber does not last long.


  9. “If you are willing to wait ten thousand years you could literally build a new world from scratch.”

    The way things are going, we might need to. I must leave a note.


  10. At least Småland has a name that once made sense in historical context. The US state of Nevada (from Spanish nevar, to snow) gets very little precipitation, as it is in the rain shadow of an eponymous mountain range which is mostly in California. And for that matter, the country of India is named after a river in Pakistan.


  11. As an ingorant American, my entire knowledge of the Swedish language derives from the names used for products at IKEA (okay, except for the meatballs; I knew about them before).

    I am repeatedly amused when I learn (sometimes through Martin’s blog) that sometimes the names are contextually appropriate, and not just false cognates.

    “Småland” is the name IKEA gives to their supervised childcare room at their U.S. stores 🙂


  12. @Michael: English and Swedish are both derived from a common language, proto-Germanic. So it’s no surprise that they have so many cognates. In addition, some words were borrowed into Old English from Old Norse (a more recent ancestor language of modern Swedish) in the 9th and 10th centuries AD, and many non-Germanic words have been borrowed into both languages (either independently, or into Swedish via English).

    Recall that the existence of the Indo-European language family was deduced when a British colonial administrator in India noted many cognates between Latin/Greek and Sanskrit–far more than one would expect given the scarcity of contacts between the Mediterranean basin and the subcontinent.


  13. Erling, since Stockholm is downstream from Uppsala, we have a candidate for the name!
    — — — — — — — — —
    Martin, in defence of Zelazny he wrote a couple of more deep novels too. “Eye of Cat” was particularly moving. Later, he seems to have resigned to the readers wanting entertainment, not depth, and he churned out many more books of the “Amber” series until he died quite young.


  14. The Oort cloud should be called the Öpik cloud after the Estonian astronomer who first proposed it as a source of comets.

    The diameter of the cloud isn’t well-defined. Like the Earth’s athmosphere, it fades out without a clear-cut boundary. The closeness of Alpha Centauri (A and B) gives an upper limit, because they will steal objects that drift too far away from our Sun.


  15. It’s an over-reaction. People in psychology should be defunded and made to get real jobs – shooting is way too extreme.


  16. @Birger – you’ve just proved that I spend *way* too much time on the Internet. Nobody should be able to mentally picture stick figures just from seeing the letters xkcd in a link.


  17. John @28: That makes kopi luwak look like a proletarian beverage. Not that I’d be drinking any of that stuff, either–I don’t drink coffee. But I do like Chinese and Japanese green teas. Even so, $70k per kilo is a bit beyond my budget.


  18. Eric – They have banned kopi luwak here because they found out people were caging palm civets and force-feeding them. I would never have drunk the stuff anyway.

    I’m trying to work out what difference it makes to the taste of the panda poo tea that the girls picking it wear panda suits.

    I’m perfectly happy with the iron goddess, myself.


  19. In the evenings I have mulberry & pine needle.

    We went through a burdock tea period, but we got over it. We have yet to try velcro tea.

    I can’t hear anything at the moment, Birger, I have Tropical Ears. I did listen to it before, before I went troppo.


  20. I’m finally reading Jean Manco’s “Ancestral Journeys”. After a slightly awkward, bookish intro on basic principles of linguistics and human genetics, which may not be too riveting for the initiated, once you get into it, it’s a cracking good read. It’s almost unputdownable.


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