January Pieces Of My Mind #1

  • 2015 was an amazing year for scifi movies. The Martian, Fury Road, Force Awakens. And I hear Ex Machina is good too?
  • Tess Parks’s “Life Is But A Dream” sounds exactly like Mazzy Star.
  • Tolkien Society flea market / fundraiser, late 80s. I’m in my larper tunic and baggy-sleeved shirt. An old lady loudly asks her friend, “Was that a boy in a dress?”
  • Jack the Ripper was into one night stabs.
  • Signed off on Jr’s first ID. “You are the bows from which your children / as living arrows are sent forth.”
  • Deezer took a look at my druggy favourites, then played me “White Rabbit” and “Eight Miles High”.
  • Love this! My old department, the one where you could get your model T Ford any colour you liked as long as it was post-modernist, is advertising four PhD studentships. And they’re all in nat-sci collaborations…
  • Omg omg omg — huge international celebrity reviews my latest book, and opens with the words “This exquisite little book is an enticing and delightful presentation of investigations into the findspots of Bronze Age artefacts around Stockholm in eastern Sweden”!
  • Snooki: “Tonight is the night of the party. Get it all out, frickin’ do everything that you can, you know. Have sex with an old man, steal a plant, and then get arrested, and then do whatever.”
  • Bought a box of mixed cuts of high-end happy-cow veal, found an Eye of Round, Lat. semitendinosus, Sw. nötrulle. After reading up on it I soaked it in brine for three days, then boiled it for three hours. Lovely beefy sandwich meat.
  • Just carried two very small snoring refugees from my car into an overnight shelter.
  • Research into fusion reactors since the 50s hasn’t produced a machine that puts out more energy than goes in. But it’s advanced science’s understanding of plasma and how to contain it with magnetic fields enormously. A leaky plasma container is a thoroughly understood technology now, though pretty useless in a reactor. But in space, a leaky plasma container is basically a rocket engine for which you hardly need to bring any fuel. You just need electric power from solar panels or a small fission reactor to heat the plasma.
  • They’ve discovered twelve new elements since I was in high school. And they’ve named unnilhexium Seaborgium.
  • Jrette: “Moan boo, drunken dwarfs have turned my chair facing the wrong way!”
  • Unlike scientific results, academic fashions are socially constructed.
  • Danes! I salute you! Causa Sui is a bloody amazing band!
  • Getting drunk and sex-harassing women is sadly a common type of misbehaviour among men worldwide. But is there a custom in certain countries where you do this traditionally to celebrate New Year’s Eve?

Author: Martin R

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

42 thoughts on “January Pieces Of My Mind #1”

  1. “Getting drunk and sex-harassing women is sadly a common type of misbehaviour among men worldwide. But is there a custom in certain countries where you do this traditionally to celebrate New Year’s Eve?”

    Apparently there is now.

    The so-called feminists have been pretty silent, similar to the defenders of democracy who don’t complain as long as it is a person of colour who does the oppressing.

    No, these goons are not the only people who harass women. But dismissing it as just more male chauvinism without noticing that it is qualitatively new is not only wrong and a slap in the face of the victims, but will probably encourage more such behaviour.


  2. You can borrow my DVD of “Ex Machina” for review purposes.
    — — — —
    Every Swedish celebrity, comedian, actor or politician died in 2015. Magnus Härenstam, Karin Söder and lots of other names non-Swedes have never heard about.
    The only Swede left alive is Max von Sydow, which is ironic considering the role he played in the film that gave him worldwide fame. -PR for a certain guy’s chess skills? It helps to have powerful friends…


  3. There is a joke to the effect that fusion is the power source of the future, and always will be.

    My background is in plasma physics. But not fusion research–I am more into space and astrophysical plasmas. We have a leaky magnetic confinement device surrounding the planet–it’s called the magnetosphere. Without it, we wouldn’t have aurora, nor would we have radiation belts.


  4. Call me weird, but I think that Ex_Machina is an absolutely brilliant film, and unlike any other film I have ever seen. I am keen to hear your opinion on it when you finally get to see it.

    There was always a kind of tradition in Australia that people would get ‘merry’ (i.e. rat-faced drunk) on New Year’s Eve, and there was always a lot of hugging and kissing going on that would normally be regarded as over the top, but it was more just drunken sloppiness rather than any kind of sexual harrassment.

    I guess with the drunkeness, a certain amount of inappropriate touchy feelies does go on in some quarters, but it was never a big thing.

    Still, I’ve been away for a good while – maybe social mores have changed. I doubt they have changed that much though (that drunk men basically have a licence to grab a handful of every woman they pass).

    I have read that 99% of female tourists who go to Egypt are sexually harrassed, and some of it can be pretty severe. But nothing like that occurs in Turkey. Italy, maybe yes.


  5. This excellent 2003 book chapter:


    predicted correctly what has now been found from ancient DNA.

    It is good to know that the book The Colonization of Unfamiliar Landscapes: the Archaeology of Adaptation is still current and worth reading, instead of being rendered rapidly out of date by subsequent advances in genomics.

    And the confluence of findings from archaeology and genomics further strengthens the certainty that this is what happened.

    The geneticists now regard Europe as “done”, and are turning their attention to the embarrassing lack of work done on East Asia, so the next few years should answer a lot of questions about the origins of the Chinese. One interesting data point is that the mutation of the EDAR gene which causes more coarse head hair, smaller breast sizes, different human milk composition and a different distribution of endocrine sweat glands, which is now at fixity in modern Han Chinese, can be dated to about 30,000 years ago. That post-dates the split between the peoples who ended up creating Europeans, and the people who ultimately became the Han by about 10-15,000 years.

    So now, soon, we may know the origin of modern Chinese, which is pretty exciting.


  6. Wife: “You don’t have to drive far. You don’t need the GPA.”
    Me: “The what?”
    Wife: “The GDP.”
    Me: “You mean the GPS?”
    Wife: “Whatever.”

    So of course I wound up in the middle of a large public bus station with huge double-decked buses zooming all around me, which was *definitely* where I was not supposed to be.

    That’s when I turned on the GPS with voice direction, and that nice American lady talked me through getting out of my predicament and back on the road I needed to be on in 2 seconds flat.

    I don’t know how she does that, because her pronunciation of street names in Cantonese is unintelligible. I had to learn her self-taught (and horribly wrong) pronunciation system before I could use her very effectively.

    Does anyone understand how Google Maps does that voice direction thing? It’s brilliant, but I don’t have a clue how they do it.


  7. Yeah. That could have got nasty.

    But one of the things I love about HK – there I was, driving totally illegally through the middle of this giant bus depot, big signs everywhere saying “buses only”, having got into it by erroneously driving on a “bus only lane”, and all these gigantic buses are all manoeuvring around me while I frantically searched for a way to get out of the thing again – did anyone blow a horn at me? Did any traffic cop stop me and tell me off or book me? Did anyone lean out of a window and call me an idiot?

    No, they just patiently manoeuvred around me until I got out of there. That’s Chinese intelligence and pragmatism – they all knew I must have gone in there by mistake, and that I was trying to find my way out again. Blowing horns or hurling abuse wouldn’t achieve anything constructive.

    I would have got much more hostile reaction in Australia – that’s a certainty.

    In that way, HK is a very ‘forgiving’ sort of place. You don’t see road rage here. When I’m in Australia, I see at least half a dozen drivers going mad with road rage every time I go out driving.

    The Mainland is different, I hasten to add – over there, they’re just crazy.


  8. Ouch. This is one robust critter. Bovine terminator?
    “Meet Sparky the Bison: Lightning-Strike Survivor” https://www.doi.gov/blog/meet-sparky-bison-lightning-strike-survivor
    BTW what is the difference between boffalo and bison? And how are the critters living in the Norwegian mountains (a recent implant from Greenland) related?
    — — — — — — — — — — — — —

    My catchphrase for the kind of assholes who grope women, and bully them on electronic media (often with ‘rape threat tourette’s’) is ‘frigate birds’. because they systematically induce vomiting. Also, trhey poop all over.


  9. Ok, I found the muskox is a member of Caprinae, a subfamily of bovidae and not closely related to the bufffalo.
    Paleolithic hunters f ollowed them into sacndinavia, where the hunting probably led to their local extermination.
    The loss of ice-age megafauna is what made the current Arctic look quite different from the ice age grasslands.


  10. There are Cape Buffalo in Africa, fearsome things, and Water Buffalo in south east Asia and southern China – a lot of those are domesticated, or semi-domesticated, and used for ploughing rice fields for wet rice farming (there are still some in Hong Kong, but they have gone feral since the farms have been abandoned). But apparently they don’t belong to the same genus. Both have long curved horns.

    And they are both completely different animals to the American Bison, and the European Bison or Wisent. They both have much shorter horns than the Buffalo species. They do belong to the same genus, and look somewhat similar. If there are some big beefy horned wild creatures living in the Norwegian mountains, my guess is they might be European bison. Apparently they were extinct in the wild and have been reintroduced, according to Wikipedia, so that would fit with them being transplanted from Greenland to Norway.

    American Bison are frequently incorrectly called Buffalo, but they ain’t.


  11. John@13: This would be a good place to quote the following syntactically valid English sentence: “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo.” The word is used four times as a place name (there are cities by that name in New York and Wyoming; the latter was named for the former), four times as the name of an animal, and three times as a verb.


  12. John@10: Your description of HK drivers is different from what I recall of Beijing drivers when I visited that city ten years ago. Some of that would be due to experience: at the time of my visit, many Beijing drivers were novices, and I was told that about a thousand new cars were being added to the streets every day. Even so, there wasn’t any sign of road rage: even when one driver cut another off, the latter took the attitude of, “Better luck next time.” But over a two week period (most of which was spent attending conferences within walking distance of my hotel) I saw four accidents that police had not yet responded to, including one where I saw the illegal maneuver that precipitated the accident (but not the accident itself). I’ve never seen a place with worse average drivers (though I admit I have never been to Moscow–the stories I have heard of Moscow drivers make Beijing drivers look the way Beijing drivers make Boston drivers look). Maybe the drivers have more experience now, or maybe traffic has gotten so congested that it’s hard for an accident to do major damage due to the low speeds.

    OTOH, Seattle drivers don’t behave like Boston drivers. Both can be bad, but in different ways: Seattle drivers have a tendency to ignore pedestrians at four-way stop signs, while Boston drivers are notoriously aggressive (e.g., there is no lane discipline on motorways, and the hard shoulder or “breakdown lane” is sometimes used as a high-speed lane). So it shouldn’t be a surprise that drivers in different parts of a country even larger than the US would show different behaviors.


  13. Eric: I think there is such a big difference between Hong Kong and Mainland driving skills/behaviour due to history. The first time I entered the Mainland in 1982, there were no private motor vehicles. None. Zero. Everyone owned a bicycle. Now, everyone in the Mainland aspires to own a car, and with so many nouveau riche buying high performance cars as status symbols, a lot of people are driving cars that they are not sufficiently skilled or experienced to handle.

    Hong Kong has long had private cars. It used to be that a person could ‘buy’ a driver’s licence, but those days were over so long ago now that those drivers are no longer on the roads. The HK driving test is notoriously difficult. So there tends to be a big difference between HK and Mainland driving ability and behaviour.

    But yeah, you don’t get much road rage, even in the Mainland.


  14. “Getting drunk and sex-harassing women is sadly a common type of misbehaviour among men worldwide. But is there a custom in certain countries where you do this traditionally to celebrate New Year’s Eve?”

    Apparently it is a thing, because it has a name. (Not just on New Year.)


  15. Anti-choice honesty
    “Dr. Monica Miller of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, one of the main organizers of this weekend’s protest rallies at Planned Parenthood clinics, said on Tuesday that even if Planned Parenthood were to stop performing abortions, she would still want to strip it of federal funding because it promotes a corrupt view of human sexuality including sex for recreation, sex for mere pleasure.”
    Wow. At least she openly admits that having sex for pleasure is bad.


  16. Seriously, can we use therahertz beams to look through the ground like with ground-penetrating radar? Or wil the water molecules absorb the beams?
    — — — — — —
    “Fox News presenter Bill O’Reilly promises to ‘flee’ to Ireland if Bernie Sanders becomes president”
    -Hooray for president Sanders!
    (Ireland as collateral damage?)


  17. (opens the door, looks around)
    “-Anyone here?”

    Film: “The Revenant is meaningless pain porn”

    This should not, of course, be confused with the brilliant French TV series “Les Revenants” (on Swedish TV Saturday evenings) or the British TV series “In The Flesh” (on Wednesdays)
    (both are re-run at Swedish SVT 24 back to back Friday evenings, providing good television on the theme ‘unusual definitions of the concept “dead”. They are like the brothers Horst and Johannes Cabal that way)


  18. I guess I’ll watch The Revenant, but I’m not looking forward to it.

    As it is, it’s getting unbearably cold here – it’s going down to 10 Celsius next weekend. If that ain’t the next ice age, it will do me until it comes.


  19. It’s only been six days! Anyway, I’m putting together an entry on the state of Sb’s blogs like I did a year ago. Demands a bit of data collection.


  20. 10 Celsius (resists temptation to make Monty Pythonesque comparison to the winters I recall from my childhood)
    — — —
    I just sent a lettter to New Scientist asking the readers to collectively come up with a short nickname for “CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors”. .
    The DNA Legokit? Gene Photoshop?
    — — — — — —
    “Taiwan elects Tsai Ing-wen as first female president” http://www.rawstory.com/2016/01/taiwan-elects-tsai-ing-wen-as-first-female-president/
    There is some grumbling from Beijing about the independence ambitions of the Taiwanese. Taiwan and mainland China are culturally and historically related the way the Nordic countries are. The Swedish king hated giving up Norway just like the Danish king hated it a century earlier. Myself I rejoice whenever the Mighty get miserable.


  21. People have come up with the name Greater China to describe the Mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. (It excludes the Chinese diaspora in countries like Singapore, Malaysia, etc.)

    The reason why there needs to be a group name is that, in everything except politics, the constituent members of Greater China behave as if they all belong to a single entity, in terms of trade, collaboration in film making and the arts generally, etc. And (literally) building bridges. And tunnels.

    Well, not quite. There is considerable resentment of Mainlanders which has developed in HK, where people have realised that they are culturally different. Maybe they didn’t used to be 70 years ago, but 70 years is a long time.

    And they’re now forecasting it will do down to 9. I’d better fill up the petrol tank – I could be spending a lot of time sitting in the car with the engine running and the seat heater on. When I bought this car, my daughter scoffed when I said it had heated front seats. Now I get chastised if she gets into the car and I haven’t pre-heated her seat.


  22. And they’re now forecasting it will do down to 9. I’d better fill up the petrol tank – I could be spending a lot of time sitting in the car with the engine running and the seat heater on.

    Having grown up in Miami, I can somewhat understand this point of view. We did have the occasional frost once every few years, and the local newspapers would have to remind people about the concept of wind chill. But as I type this, it’s about -9 outside, with a stiff northwesterly wind. But I can stay inside, because houses around here have functional heating systems–I don’t need a heated car seat for that.

    Of course, what we don’t have around here is air conditioning. So after a couple of decades around here, I feel lethargic any time it gets above 30 degrees. I find anything over 35 to be dreadfully hot, and have trouble envisioning life in a place where temperatures over 40 are routine (the all-time state record here is 41 degrees, a record which was set about 100 years ago).


  23. Oh, Jeez…“Who built the English Channel?” and other questions posed to librarians http://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2016/01/18/who-built-the-english-channel-and-other-questions-posed-to-librarians/
    My favourite: ”Where can I rent a guillotine?”*

    (*the last one looks like a service the Swedish conservative leader** might provide for Saudi Arabia. Internal Swedish joke, )

    **The leaders of two conservative parties here are women. And they show zero solidarity for women in the middle east. One want draconic restrictions to of refugee reception, the other one, Kessler-Sauron or something sucks up to Saudi Arabia and disses anyone who criticize that country.


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