December Pieces Of My Mind #3

Our kitchen window
Our kitchen window
  • When we go out for dinner my wife wants to sample everyone’s dishes. And I want to make sure no food is wasted. So we both end up sampling everyone’s dishes.
  • Danish metal detectorists refer to their finds as “cousins”. “Can somebody please ID this cousin?”
  • I’m a typical Swedish atheist. I’m uncomfortable with people having strong feelings about religion. Pro or con.
  • When reading about 17th century Swedish historians in the Rudebeck vein I can understand that they would uncritically repeat whatever a trusted authority had said. But I’m amazed by their willingness to just make shit up in great detail.
  • A lot of the time I get the feeling that commercial space companies are just rehashing the Apollo program’s inventions. But SpaceX’s reusable rocket stage is something radically new, which will get the cost down for launches!
  • The bones of Saint Erik, the national saint of Sweden, have undergone scientific reappraisal. Sabine Sten and her team will announce their results in Fornvännen 2016:1. I am pleased and entertained to note that three of thirteen co-authors have non-Swedish surnames. And eight of them are women.
  • As a kid I heard ABBA’s song lines “Look into his angel-eyes / One look and you’re hypnotized / He’ll take your heart and you must pay the price”. And I thought they were about a charismatic debt collector.
  • My buddy got hit with an inept swindling attempt. Dude tries to take out a really bad $2500 loan in his name, and opts for the physical signature method of identification. So my buddy gets the paperwork mailed to him. With the dude’s easily identifiable email address on it. And his bank account number. *slow clapping*
  • What’s that 80s/90s movie where they’re dubbing porn and one actor hasn’t showed up, so the other guy has to jump between two mikes grunting erotically in two voices? [Jesus of Montreal]
  • So happy about NASA’s sudden budget hike! And it’s largely thanks to one Texas Republican congressman who’s obsessed with looking for life under the ice on Europa. It’s now US federal law that NASA must try to put a lander on that icy moon!
  • I like lists with hanging indents.
  • Another language annoyance: writers who get download and upload mixed up. As in “I downloaded pics of my kids from my PC onto my phone”.
  • The effect of sunshine and caffeine on my mood makes me wonder if I really do have an immaterial soul.
  • The little plastic skis in the collar flaps of my good shirt have gone bendy. They are now collar messeruppers.

Author: Martin R

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

19 thoughts on “December Pieces Of My Mind #3”

  1. Not to be a downer, but I was very saddened to read of a recently published paper on Ebola, of which five of the six authors are already dead from the disease.

    The saddest part is that Ebola is completely eradicable – with safe practices it could be eradicated forever and never come back, but it means making cultural changes to West Africans, and apparently that and quarantine are subjects that are too politically charged to deal with.

    So, sooner or later, Ebola will spread to the whole globe and wipe out all humans, because it has an initial symptomless-free phase during which the infected person is infectious to others.

    Sooner or later, we are going to have to be a bunch of Nazis about it, or let human extinction roll over us.


  2. You might think that would be a wake up call to the world, but there are groups of people who think human extinction would be the best possible outcome for the world.

    I don’t notice those people hurling themselves off cliffs to set a good example for others, though. They themselves are far too valuable preaching their brilliant thoughts to the masses.


  3. In relation to nothing, except my current obsession with Flamenco music (a current obsession I have had continuously since I was 12, and which I am finally in a position to do something about) (except that I’m going to cop hell from my wife when she finds out I have ordered a second Flamenco guitar, not being satisfied to own one very good one), I was interested in what I could pick up in this song – Spanish Gypsies (Gitanos) not only speak Spanish (which I don’t, although that is rapidly changing as I work through my Flamenco beginner’s lessons), but they speak it with their own peculiar pronunciation. So far I have picked out the following words: Gitanos (which they pronounce as Hitanao), Catholic and Franco, no doubt in reference to the former right wing Spanish dictator. Gypsies were classified as sub-humans by the Nazis, and marked for systematic genocide – estimates of the number who died in Nazi concentration camps vary from 220,000 to 1,500,000. By their nature, their numbers are hard to keep track of.

    For anyone who is interested, the song is in the style of Solear, which is derived from the Spanish word soledad, meaning solitude; so it’s a safe bet that all songs in the ‘Compas’ (style or rhythm) are melancholy. The time signature of Solear is one of Flamenco’s many rhythmic oddities – it is two bars of 3/4 time, then a bar of 6/8 time; then repeat. The accents are on the beats 3,6,8,10 and 12.


  4. SARS was also hosted by bats. During the 2003 epidemic it killed hundreds of people, including a lot of the doctors and nurses in Hong Kong hospitals who were treating SARS patients.

    But once the human chain of transmission was broken, once there was not a single human infected by SARS, it quickly evolved to become harmless, and has now totally disappeared.

    Now we have MERS, for which the host is the camel. Interestingly there was recently an outbreak of it in South Korea, where they are fairly short on camels.


  5. In 2010 I presented to an emergency department of a public hospital with pneumonia, mostly because I couldn’t breathe and was turning blue in the face from lack of oxygen. They slammed me straight into an isolation ward where I stayed for several days while they tested me for every virus and bacterium they could think of. They never did find what one doctor called “the initiating agent” – by the time they got through running all the tests, whatever it was that triggered the pneumonia was gone and I was not an infection risk to anyone for anything.

    I did not take being put into isolation as an infringement of my human rights or ‘culturally insensitive’. I didn’t enjoy it; in fact, it was horrible, but I figured it was the responsible thing to do – if I had something that was killing me, I didn’t think I had any right to pass it on to anyone else.


  6. “Look into his angel-eyes
    He’ll take your heart and you must pay the price”.

    Sounds like the angel of Death.
    Or the Ice Lady, if you have read the Moominvalley books as a kid.
    — — —
    Re. futuristic technology: Aircraft and spacecraft were pushed as far as aluminium and steel could handle in the sixties and seventies, followed by a dull “same old, same old” lasting four decades. The new impressive stuff comes from the development of electronics, from really smart cameras/phones to neural network programs.
    For instance, we now have software that can fly drones autonomously. Here is a Chinese mega-drone big enough to carry a passenger (coughFlying car cough)
    “Chinese drone maker unveils human-carrying drone”
    Now let’s just invest a couple of billion USD (a trifle compared with military Tech) to refine a conservatively rated nuclear rocket engine.


  7. If we can make GM mosqitoes that are immune to malaria, we should be able to make GM bats that are immune to Ebola.
    BTW the epidemic started in Guinea and spread due to incompetent government handling. They were more interested in suppressing disease rumors that might hurt the economy than in suppressing the disease.


  8. Your friend was lucky to get the paperwork on that dodgy loan in the mail. Most of the time, that sort of financial fraud, if it is detected at all, is carried out with no trace of the perpetrator. Some years ago somebody who obtained my credit card info via a burglary in Iowa City used it to obtain $30 worth of pizza in Cedar Rapids. I’ve never been to Cedar Rapids, but the credit card company had no way of knowing that. They wound up eating (no pun intended) that charge.


  9. I’ve never understood the alleged problems with the theft of credit-card numbers and so on. (Credentials for online banking are another matter entirely.) Any vendor knows all your numbers. They are not secret, and not meant to be, no more than your account number. If the credit-card company accepts a transaction without proper authorization, that is their risk. All you have to do is check your bill and inform them which purchases you didn’t make. (Of course, if you claim you didn’t make some which you did, that is fraud, and you could and should go to jail.)

    Of course, many credit-card companies do accept transactions without proper authorization, and take the risk, and pay up if the charges are disputed. This is fine. What people have to realize, though, is that these costs are distributed, via fees, among all users of credit cards, and to some extent to all people who buy in shops, whether by card or by cash, which accept credit cards.


  10. Phillip@14: There are consumer protections for credit card users, so theft of credit card information per se is not an issue. However, there are debit cards tied directly to your bank account which function like credit cards, except that (at least in the US) they don’t offer the consumer protections that credit cards do. If somebody makes an unauthorized transaction with your debit card, the loss is yours, not the bank’s (unless you reported it prior to the transaction). And in the US, many of the (frequently inadequate) security measures that are in place were implemented to close barn doors after the horses were already stolen.


  11. Credit cards have always seemed like the world’s worst deal to me. I only have a debit card. And once, when someone used its number for a transaction in a far-off country, the bank took that cost and sent me a new debit card for free.


  12. Credit cards do have their uses. In the US, they typically offer you a grace period such that if you pay the full balance in that time, they do not charge interest on new purchases. That makes the cards handy in that you don’t have to carry so much cash around (which was an important consideration in the 1980s and 1990s–crime rates have dropped significantly since then). Some employers (mine among them) even offer corporate cards to their employees, so that business travel expenses are paid directly without the need for reimbursement.

    Of course there are downsides to credit cards. Many people make only the minimum monthly payment, and therefore end up paying more in interest than they did for the actual items they bought. Banks are also not always careful to take ability to pay into account. Hardly a week goes by without my getting an offer for a credit card I don’t need–and I can’t just dump those in my recycling bin; I have to shred the application so that somebody doesn’t obtain credit in my name (yes, that’s an issue in the US).

    Obviously, Swedish law may differ from US law in ways that make debit cards more attractive. For instance, you might have better protection against fraud than American consumers do. Your bank handled your case in essentially the same way my credit card issuer handled the Cedar Rapids pizza order: they canceled that card, took the loss, and issued me a new card for free.


    1. That makes the cards handy in that you don’t have to carry so much cash around

      Pardon? Non sequitur. Both credit and debit cards free you from carrying cash. And the grace period you mention has nothing to do with carrying cash.


  13. I have several credit cards (my wife collects them), but we only ever use them as debit cards – we have always paid the full amount owed at the end of each month, so never pay the insanely high credit charges. We agree with Martin – we don’t see the point of credit cards when a debit card would do us just fine. But some of the cards amass frequent flyer miles and other useful things, so hence my wife’s liking for collecting them. She always talks them out of having to pay the annual fees for them, but that’s my wife – she’s just good at that sort of thing.

    On all of them, the rule is that I am liable for any unauthorised purchases until I report the card stolen to the credit card company. Any further unauthorised charges thereafter are the responsibility of the credit card company. Well, they’re the stated rules – I found recently that I had been the victim of a modest amount of credit card fraud (not theft – someone had just copied my card number and used it somehow), and when we informed the credit card company, they just refunded me the money and took the loss themselves – but it was fairly modest, a single charge of a few thousand HK$ (HK$1 is roughly equal to Kr1).

    Happily non-sequituring, I knew a beautiful girl from New York, originally from the Dominican Republic and really quite a stunner, who had managed to amass a credit card debt of US$100,000. I don’t understand how people manage to do that, but she did – I guess she just kept buying things she could not afford to pay for; clothes mostly, to adorn her perfect body. All she could afford to pay each month were the credit charges, so she could never pay down the debts to the credit card companies, and was facing life with this massive debt hanging around her neck like a dead albatross.

    She finally solved this problem by marrying a wealthy Cuban in Florida, and he paid the debt for her. It’s a fairly drastic solution to a problem, though, to have to marry your way out of it.

    I used that girl as an example when we gave our daughter a couple of credit cards (some amass points, but may not be accepted by HK businesses because of their high charges, so you need at least two dee dah dee dah…) and she got the point immediately, so she always does the same – never buys anything we can’t afford to pay off completely at the end of the month.

    Now a real non sequitur – I also carry a ‘smart’ stored value card called here an Octopus card, which you can use for just about anything – travelling on public transport, making small purchases, paying for parking in public car parks, and even as the security card to get me into our building where we live, and into the underground garage where I park my car. If I lose that bugger, it’s my problem – not only do I lose however much cash I have paid into it, but I have no way of parking my car in my parking space and getting into my own home. The saving grace is that the most it will hold is HK$1,000, so if I lose it or someone steals it, my financial loss has a maximum limit of that much.

    Of course, the joke is that the security guards where we live all know me, so if I lose my Octopus card and can’t open the security doors and gates, I just wave to them and they let me in.


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