August Pieces Of My Mind #1

Sailing the skiff my dad built for us when I was a kid felt surprisingly familiar even after 30 years.
Sailing the skiff my dad built for us when I was a kid felt surprisingly familiar even after 30 years.
  • For the first time I got an ebook instead of a paper book to review for Aard. I like it. Less pressure to push through and read + review a boring book when all they’ve given me is a copy of a file.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses really have a self-defeating theology. Their cap on the number of people who go to heaven is already way below the global number of members. And of course it gets worse over time.
  • Chocolate makers want to make the whole world Lesbian with secret candy additives! It’s right there in the name! Mondelez! Wake up, sheeple!
  • I was surprised to find an unopened can of tuna in my mother’s fridge. After all, canning obviates refrigeration as a food preservation method. I was then doubly surprised to find an identical can in her freezer.
  • Reclaim the Reclam Kunstführer!
  • There’s been loads of debate about the metal detector hobby in Scandy archaeology. Fornvännen’s October issue will contain an interesting new development. For the first time, to my knowledge, a Swedish detectorist association is responding in a professional archaeology venue to what the pros have been saying about them.
  • Spoiler: Miéville breaks the mystery writer’s contract in The City & The City. The plot hinges on certain archaeological finds having known unearthly physical properties of interest to engineers, yet he doesn’t mention this to the reader until very late in the story.
  • It’s clear from The Lord of the Rings that orcs in that book are the same beings as are referred to in The Hobbit as “goblins”. But I was surprised to find that The Hobbit actually mentions orcs as distinct from goblins. On the last page of ch. 7, Gandalf advises Bilbo and the dwarves to avoid the Grey Mountains because “they are simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins and orcs of the worst description”.
  • Jrette and I just read past the halfway point in The Hobbit, when Bombur falls into the enchanted stream.
  • I’m on the current episode of the Token Skeptic podcast, talking about the ideas of latter-day Ancient Astronaut and Banking Conspiracy writer Michael Tellinger.
  • Three great bands I’ve discovered through Google Play Music’s recommendation service recently: Wolfmother, Skambankt, Eagles of Death Metal.
  • Facebook took one good look at the pile of data about myself that I’ve supplied them with, and decided that I would definitely be interested in an ad in German for a gay bed & breakfast service. “Stay with people like yourself!”
  • Hey everybody who writes! Are you looking for one simple way to make me lose all confidence in you? It’s easy! Just wobble randomly between the past and present tense! For that really solid punch, wobble inside sentences!
  • Find sorting pro tip. When excavating with students, give each trench not only a name, but a distinctive context number series. That way you’ll know that a find from layer 201 is from trench H even when a student forgets to write the trench’s name on the baggie.
  • This skeptical celeb said he supports the death penalty for people who commit crazily cruel crimes. I’d like to remind him that nobody actually has any free will. The reason that I don’t commit crazily cruel crimes is that I’m not motivated to by the causality chain in my brain. People who commit such crimes are demonstrably nuts and should just be kept off the streets for everybody’s safety. The legal system should not deal in revenge. There is no such thing as an evil person.
  • Copy editing a paper written by natural scientists. Changing their passive voice (“the samples were dissolved”) to active voice (“we dissolved the samples”) throughout. MWA HA HA HA HA HA
  • I’m doing affirmative action. ~15 people have written me about Jr’s old bike after I put it up on a free stuff web site. Now I’m contacting those with worst Swedish first.

Author: Martin R

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

67 thoughts on “August Pieces Of My Mind #1”

  1. What they didn’t quite get is that HK has very high topographic relief, so in any rain storm you are likely to get a great deal of spatial variation in intensity

    There is a well-known phenomenon called orographic lift–basically, precipitation amounts are significantly higher on the windward slopes of mountains, and lower on the downwind side. This is how you go from rainforest to desert in the space of ~300 km (e.g., in Washington state). I’m not sure how this plays out in your area, as it depends on the size and horizontal extent of the mountains, but it would not surprise me if parts of Guangdong province to the immediate north of Hong Kong see significantly less precipitation than the Pearl River delta or Hong Kong itself. From maps I have seen that the rainiest parts of India are in the north, along the Himalayas.

    Intense rainfall from systems associated with low pressure troughs is familiar to most people in the US, especially east of the Rocky Mountains. Monsoon rains aren’t that common (mainly limited to Arizona, Florida, and the immediate Gulf coast), but there is lots of moisture in the Gulf of Mexico and northwestern Atlantic for storm systems to tap into. Some of those storms bring destructive winds, too–usually not hurricane/typhoon strength, but strong straight-line winds can occur, and sometimes you can get tornados, the strongest of which can bring winds of more than 300 km/h to an area 2 km or less in width.


  2. It is true that it wouldn’t be completely insane if the capsicum seed had been found in a clear pre-Columbian context, but it would still be remarkable since as far as I know capsicum has not been found in North America anywhere near as far north as L’anse aux Meadows. the corn/squash/bean complex did get up into SE Canada, but capsicum is as far as I know restricted to the SW US.


  3. @Bill: I don’t know if they are native to the area, but peppers do grow here in Zone 5. I just had a couple (a sweet green bell pepper and a serrano) that I put in with a stir fry, which will feed me for another couple of days or so. I got the peppers at the weekly farmers market in my town, so I know exactly what municipality they were grown in (the next one west of me). Tomatoes are abundant as well.

    Vinland is a much colder climate–without looking it up, I’m tempted to guess zone 3. So I don’t think peppers and tomatoes survive that far north. But it wouldn’t take much of a trade network for these plants to reach the lower Mississippi Valley. The question is whether this trade network existed–I know of no evidence either way. The existence of the Cahokia culture was a surprise to many–apparently some of their mounds, within the city limits of present-day St. Louis, were taken for railway fill before anybody thought to check for archaeological significance. The myth was that North America was empty, apart from a few “primitive” tribes, before European settlements. Of course the original settlers knew that wasn’t true–they killed off most of the ones that didn’t succumb to smallpox and other infectious diseases–but it was easy for later colonists to think so.


  4. #57 – The orographic effects happen when the warm, moisture laden SW monsoon hits HK, but the total area of HK is only 1,100 km2, and the terrain continues to be mountainous the other side of the border, so within HK the rain shadow effects are not discernible – the rainfall distribution pattern just shows that the highest intensities tend to occur on the highest ground, but otherwise there is no consistent pattern.

    There are also convectional storms, where rainstorms just boil up out of nowhere, and which obscure any pattern due to orographic effects.

    You are right, the monsoon rainstorms can be accompanied by very strong winds, and we have had tornadoes as a very rare occurrence.

    A strong wind signal is often issued with the arrival of a new pulse of the NE monsoon also, which is a very strong, steady wind, but that is cold and dry, and just adds a wind chill factor, so that 12 degrees feels a lot colder. The NE monsoon is the thing I hate the most – that’s when the skin on your hands and lips cracks, having become acclimatised to the warmth and very high humidity during the long summer, and finding somewhere to get out of the wind is virtually impossible.

    Thunderstorms here are spectacular – the lightning activity is intense and can go on continuously for several hours. During the summer, HK is affected by lightning on an average of 22 days of every month. Almost miraculously, we only get an average of one person killed by lightning per year – usually someone on a golf course holding a long metal rod in his hand, so no real loss to the gene pool.


  5. Twelve degrees, even with a stiff wind, doesn’t sound all that cold to me. But I live in a place which sees winter temperatures as low as -20, and more importantly, buildings here are designed for it–any building that isn’t explicitly meant for summer use only will have a central heating system of some kind. That may be rare in Hong Kong–I have heard that it is rare in Japan (except Hokkaido and the mountains of eastern Honshu) and Korea, which are quite a bit further north. And I have learned from experience that having a place to get out of the cold is a major factor in cold tolerance. I prefer -10 degrees here to 0 degrees in Florida, and -20 in Fairbanks (which is an average January day there) to either of the above. We have the opposite problem here: central air conditioning is rare, so anything above 30 degrees is uncomfortably warm for me, but I could probably tolerate it better with better access to air conditioning.


  6. Sure – a lot of people laugh when the temperature hits 12 here with a wind chill factor and the Observatory issues a Cold Weather Warning, but street sleepers and elderly people die in those conditions. Many buildings here, including all of the older buildings built in the 1990s or earlier have central air conditioning with chillers, but no heating. So indoors you have a choice of cold or very cold.

    I’m having a cold war with my workmates – they keep setting the thermostats on the air conditioning to 15, which is insanely cold to try to work at a desk in, even in mid-summer. I keep jacking them back up to 25, which is just bearable for me.

    Where you live, Eric, I would just curl up and die. I have lived in relatively hot places all my life, and I simply wouldn’t be able to take it.


  7. they keep setting the thermostats on the air conditioning to 15, which is insanely cold

    I’ve encountered this myself, in parts of the southern US. It is insane. To put that in perspective: there is a law in this state requiring landlords to provide rental units with heating systems that can maintain an average indoor temperature of at least 18 degrees, and if the landlord sets the thermostat, he must set it to at least 18 degrees during heating season (1 October to 30 April). Tenants can enforce this rule by withholding rent, if needed. And I have found that I can get used to that kind of indoor temperature.

    I agree with you that 25 degrees is a reasonable thermostat setting for an air conditioned space that doesn’t have special needs–I might go a degree or two lower, but not more, if I controlled the office thermostat. 20 might be reasonable in the room where you keep your Cray (we have one of those in the building where I work, and it needs air conditioning even in January in New England). Except for spaces that have a particular need for a colder temperature than that (basically refrigerated rooms, freezer rooms, and the like), there is no excuse for air conditioning to a temperature below 20 degrees–that’s just a waste of electricity.

    Likewise heating in winter. One year I lived with a roommate who insisted on heating the room to 25-26 degrees, rather than putting on sweaters. Low humidity is enough of a problem in heated indoor spaces around here–no need to make it worse by overheating the space. Worst of all are the airports that do this: people traveling in winter (i.e., the customers, from the airlines’ point of view) generally wear clothes suitable for winter. I accept that 18 is a bit cool for many people, but the solution in that case is to layer up.


  8. The EPD here set indoor office temperature of 25 as a target for energy efficiency in buildings, but no one follows their advice. I find it perfectly comfortable, even in mid-summer.

    I have read research that humans are most comfortable when the temperature of the air layer next to their skin is 26. That seems about right to me. The most comfortable place I have ever been climate-wise is the Pacific island of Saipan (site of the deaths of large numbers of US Marines during the Pacific War) (I once had the unfortunate experience of sitting next to an American guy on a plane – we started talking, and he asked me where my favourite place was, and I said Saipan – he kind of froze and informed me that his father was a Marine and had died on the beach in Saipan – the rest of the trip was icy and very uncomfortable, despite my abject apology), where the air temperature is 26 constantly around the clock. If you feel a bit too cool there, you just need to wade into the ocean, which is upwards of 28. But wear something on your feet – lethally toxic cone shells abound. Wearing shoes while swimming kind of spoils the experience, somehow. But I could live on Saipan in nothing but a pair of shorts, no problem.

    Saipan recently got clobbered by a big typhoon, and a lot of buildings were flattened. I guess that was not so comfortable.

    Yes, indoor heating does create an excessive dryness problem. I suffer that here, where the winter air is cold and very dry anyway, and heating my living space just makes the dryness problem worse. I am fully acclimatised to the very high humidity that exists in HK most of the year, so when the air suddenly gets very dry, my skin really feels uncomfortable. It’s kind of ironic – I come from a very dry place which has very high annual solar radiation, but now I prefer swamp conditions – warm and wet.

    I could live with 18 indoors, but I would need to wear a sweater, and maybe upper body underwear. But 15 is just insane, and in summer it’s burning huge amounts of energy to maintain it.

    Next winter my go-to place to ward off hypothermia is going to be the wet sauna at the gym. It does my skin and lungs no end of good. But I can’t stay in there all the time, so now I have a secret weapon – I bought a German car with a heated driver’s seat. The driver’s seat is already so comfortable that I have been known to fall asleep in the car sitting in the car park. Once I start using the heater in the seat next winter, I could be spending lots of time sleeping in the car park.


    1. We keep our heat pump’s thermostat at 21 Celsius through the cold season. In the summer we just go with ambient. Our house has big south-facing windows, so often we have to vent accumulated heat in the evenings.


  9. I could live with 18 indoors, but I would need to wear a sweater, and maybe upper body underwear.

    That’s what I do: I typically wear a t-shirt under a long-sleeved shirt. As well as two pairs of socks once the snow starts to fall (in part because my winter boots don’t fit properly if I wear only one pair).

    I may have mentioned before that I grew up in southern Florida, which has a similar climate to Hong Kong: hot and humid summers with monsoon-like thunderstorms (but not as hot as the interior South and Midwest–KMIA has never reported a temperature above 38 degrees), and a few months of cooler weather in winter (though with more variation than you see: occasionally as low as 0 degrees, but 25-27 can still happen in the afternoons). I moved to New England for university, and have adapted to this climate to such an extent that I would have a hard time going back to Florida.

    You might try enlisting your female co-workers to help you in your crusade against excessive air conditioning. There was a story on the BBC News website last month about research showing that many women prefer warmer indoor temperatures, especially in summer–something about relative metabolic rates. I’m sure most of them would prefer your 25 degrees to your colleagues’ 15 degrees.


  10. That’s a good point, now that you mention it; I don’t take much notice, but all of the women in the office wear some kind of warm over-garment: cardigan, sweater, shawl or something, while most of the men are just in shirt sleeves. But Chinese women in HK all do that anyway – even on the hottest, most humid day you will see a lot of women in the street wearing a cardigan or other upper body over-garment. They have a mortal fear of solar radiation (probably sensibly) and cover up as much as possible when going out in the sun.

    During summer I don’t have the warm underwear option, otherwise I’d boil getting to the office. I’ve taken to doing what the women do and carrying a sweater in my bag which I put on after I get into the office and cool down from the trip to work. That trip is now less hot and steamy than it used to be because as of two months ago I’m now driving to work after 3 years of walking and using public transport, and I keep the temperature inside the car at a comfortable 26, but I still need to put something warm on after I get into the office. I did try cycling to work for a while and that was OK, but arriving dripping and taking a shower and changing clothes in the office was just too unwieldy and embarrassing, mostly just because no one else does it. It’s a more feasible option in winter, but that means I am riding straight into the teeth of a stiff NE wind riding all the way home, which is not fun. Fitness-inducing, undoubtedly, but not fun.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s