August Pieces Of My Mind #1

  • I just meta-mimed singing into my electric shaver. I wasn’t miming singing. I was miming someone in a movie who mimes singing.
  • Family spooked at one in the morning because a burst of engine noise has been heard. Have burglars arrived at the island? Nope, no strange boat at the dock. Investigation reveals that Jrette has just pulled down the wobbly 80s roller blind in her bedroom: duggah duggah duggah. Oh well, we got to see the Milky Way and several meteors.
  • Bon Iver’s song “Re: Stacks” name-checks the Dead Sea Scrolls. Folkies in the library basement!
  • Scored some chocolate from Jrette’s buddy by threatening to stick around their cabin and tell jokes.
  • Sidney Sime is an amazing artist, similar to Aubrey Beardsley and John Bauer.
  • Have you noticed that in addition to the front door, you can also reach Earth’s Dreamlands by following a tribe of ghouls into a tomb and beyond?
  • Les ans d’un golem en Angoulême.
  • Maurice Lévy consistently calls the fish-folk of Innsmouth shoggoths and has no word for the shapeless horrors of the Antarctic.
  • I’ve realised that there’s a type of ploughed site where I do not, unusually for me, think amateur detectorists should operate unsupervised: battlefields.
  • Movie: Source Code. Groundhog Day with a terrorist bomb plot. Grade: Pass With Distinction.
  • Don’t know if my unwillingness to watch video clips of talking heads is a generational thing / personal quirk. Gimme text. No time to watch.
  • When you’ve got a many-worlds scenario it’s a pretty useless happy ending to show us one where things went well. By the terms of your own story, there are billions of worlds where the ending was awful for the main characters.
  • A detectorist told me something beautiful and annoying. When he hands in finds to his county museum, the staff there asks for the identification of the object offered by pros and amateurs on Facebook. Because few county museums have anybody on staff who knows small finds. “They’re very good at sectioning pits and postholes though”, reports my contact.
  • Maurice Lévy translates both ghoul and vampire into Fr. vampire.
  • Suddenly dark again in the evenings.
  • One of the trickier things about French is that the language doesn’t differentiate between “he/him” and “it”. Martin bought a book. He/it was from Denmark.
  • I’ve agreed to something that’s extremely rare in the more populous parts of modern Sweden, but which was common here a thousand years ago, and which is a matter of course in my wife’s native China. Her nephew from Hangzhou is starting Swedish high school, and we are going to foster him for a year or two. I am effectively gaining a third teenage child who will occupy the room that Junior vacated three years ago when he went to live full time with his mom. I get along well with Cousin E, and I look forward to temping as his dad.
This mancala game from c. 1980 was marketed as a game from ancient Egypt. Therefore the art director painted some guy's arm brown and photographed the game in a pile of sand.
This mancala game from c. 1980 was marketed as a game from ancient Egypt. Therefore the art director painted some guy’s arm brown and photographed the game in a pile of sand.

Author: Martin R

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

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

  1. One of the trickier things about French is that the language doesn’t differentiate between “he/him” and “it”.

    Many Indo-European languages have grammatical gender: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Russian, and many others. Languages that have two grammatical genders, like the first three and French, force every object to be called “he/him” or “she/her”, and the distinction is arbitrary. German has a neuter gender, but it is also arbitrary: the appropriate pronoun for mädchen, which means “young woman”, is “it”.

    Chinese goes to the opposite extreme: there is only one third-person pronoun.


  2. Might be a generational thing, I’m older than you and will go for text everytime. It’s not just that it s quicker for me, but I find many people’s accents distract me from the content they are trying to convey.


  3. Swedish is an unusual choice for a second or third language for people who don’t live in Sweden or one of the neighboring countries. Of course, it’s relatively unusual for someone in China to have a Swedish uncle, so that may be part of the calculation.

    Another possibility is that your nephew is considering doing his university studies in Sweden. I don’t know how common it is to find foreign undergraduate students at Swedish universities, but it is a common practice at US universities, especially state universities. Chinese parents get to send their kids to the US to get a university education and a possible bolt hole if things go pear-shaped in China. The American universities get students whose parents are able and willing to pay the full tuition, unsubsidized, in cash (in-state students get a discount at state universities due to state subsidies, and US citizens and permanent residents can get financial aid, while foreigners cannot). It’s a net plus for my town: despite having a population of only ~15k (including the students), we are able to support a small Asian grocery store thanks to the Chinese students (and students from elsewhere in Asia–the Chinese are simply the largest contingent).


  4. “Scored some chocolate from Jrette’s buddy by threatening to stick around their cabin and tell jokes.”
    -You have learned to get food in almost the same way as the frigate birds! (their way is more disgusting, BTW)

    “Have you noticed that in addition to the front door, you can also reach Earth’s Dreamlands by following a tribe of ghouls into a tomb and beyond?”
    This is why reading the Johannes Cabal novels are so educational. BTW the next one is due in September.

    “Source Code” -quantum physics with parallel World lines branching off. One of the rare Hollywood films where the script was well thought out (Inception is another one).

    “..where the ending was awful for the main characters.”
    Mustrum Ridcully and Nanny Weatherwax discussed “the trousers of time” in a Pratchett novel…


  5. “gaining a third teenage child”
    As I think of the Bundy family in “Married With Children”, I shudder.


  6. The fish-folk of Innsmouth might have been surprisingly long-lived. Check the New Scientist article about Greenland Sharks (håkerl in Norwegian).


  7. I’ve realised that there’s a type of ploughed site where I do not, unusually for me, think amateur detectorists should operate unsupervised: battlefields.

    Many modern battlefields contain unexploded ordnance, which is definitely a problem, and more so for detectorists than others. Some have unexploded mines, too. I don’t know how far back you have to go for that not to be a problem: it definitely wasn’t an issue before gunpowder came into wide use, and it definitely was an issue by the early 20th century. Shakespeare gave Hamlet the lines, “‘Tis sport to see the engineer/Hoist on his own petard,” but I don’t know if that was a short-term issue or whether such bombs could still go off if someone happened to find an unexploded one.

    Or is the issue something that applies equally well to pre-gunpowder battles?


  8. “Hoist *with* his own petard.”

    At Waterloo, battlefield archaeologists are able to distinguish between French and English musket balls because they used different sizes. I found that out only recently. No idea what the Prussians used.


  9. “Hoist” in this case derives from the archaic verb “hoise”, now “hoist” in modern English, meaning to lift up. So the unfortunate Military Engineer in this case is blown upwards by the detonation of his own petard, being a small shaped demolition charge. In modern English it should be “hoisted with his own petard”, i.e. blown up with it.


  10. This might not have been an uncommon occurrence. The charge of the petard would be shaped so that the force from the explosion was directed in one direction only, in order to break through some defensive structure. But if the defensive structure was too strong to be ruptured by the explosion, the force of the explosion would be reflected backwards toward the Engineer (Sapper in modern military parlance) who was standing behind it to ignite it (a singularly bad idea, but apparently that’s what they did in Shakespeare’s day), and the air overpressure would blow him backwards and upwards (possibly fatally).

    Why they didn’t just use longer fuses escapes me; maybe to cater for the possibility of failure of the fuse (possible; maybe even frequent), or maybe to prevent the besieged enemy from grabbing the petard before it detonated and hurling it at them.

    In Hong Kong we are still regularly digging up WWII Japanese and American aerial bombs and naval shells on construction projects. The main charges are still intact and capable of detonation, but the detonating devices are normally no longer operative. You don’t want to take a chance on that with a 1,000 lb bomb, though.

    The trailing suction hopper dredger the HAM 308, flagship of the Dutch dredging company HAM’s fleet, was not so lucky. Contrary to the report in Wikipedia, it did not pick up a 500 lb bomb; in 1993 it was dredging in Hong Kong when it picked up a submerged WWII Japanese anti-ship mine (one of those big spherical shaped things covered in long spikes) which had evidently been missed by the Australian navy mine sweepers when they swept Hong Kong harbour after the liberation of Hong Kong from Japanese occupation. The mine detonated in the pump room of the dredger, lifting the ship out of the water and breaking its back. No one was killed, but several crewmen were injured, some seriously. The ship was a write-off and was towed to Vietnam for scrap.

    Don’t know who wrote this Wikipedia article on it, but it is incorrect in several respects. I don’t care enough to correct it, though.


  11. Birger@19 – Yes, Luther and Sherlock are both definitely worth watching; Luther especially for the performances by the stunning British-Nigerian actress Nikki Amuka-Bird.

    In the American Sherlock Holmes series, titled Elementary, I couldn’t help feeling they were trying really hard for diversity in casting and over-reached themselves. They had an ageing Lucy Liu cast as Watson (in what must be one of the most weird bits of miscasting in modern history), and a little black guy called Jon Michael Hill as the long suffering detective who has to tolerate Holmes’ over-the-top bizarre demented behaviour. English actor-cum-marathon runner Jonny Lee Miller, who once managed to stay married to Angelina Jolie for a full 18 months, is cast as Holmes, who is portrayed as a heavily tattooed recovering drug addict. Oh yeah, and Moriarty turns out to be a blonde woman.

    In Elementary, the physically small black guy Jon Michael Hill’s understated performances steal the show, and he electrifies the screen every time he appears, so much so that they write him increasingly bigger parts as the series progress. The white guy who plays the Police Captain looks like he has a permanent bad hangover, complete with bloodshot eyes.

    In terms of recapturing the essence of the original Conan Doyle novels, the American series comes nowhere near to the British series. In stereotypical fashion, the American series Elementary is full of gratuitous sleazy sex that is totally superfluous to the plot, while the British series Sherlock doesn’t have any.


  12. “Many Indo-European languages have grammatical gender: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Russian, and many others.”

    Is there any which doesn’t, apart from English (except that ships are “she”)?

    “Languages that have two grammatical genders, like the first three and French, force every object to be called “he/him” or “she/her”, and the distinction is arbitrary. German has a neuter gender, but it is also arbitrary: the appropriate pronoun for mädchen, which means “young woman”, is “it”.”

    This is a consequence that, as in Dutch as well, the diminutive is always neuter.

    “Chinese goes to the opposite extreme: there is only one third-person pronoun.”

    Same with Hungarian.

    Swedish has two genders: common and neuter. So, something of common gender, like a book (boken), would be referred to as “den”, which is not much different than “il” or “le”.


  13. I have just watched “Cloverfield”. If you want an *intelligent* story on the theme “aliens trash New York”, try this book: “Chrysis; Legion” by Peter Watts.
    He manages to get past the logical loopholes including Fermi’s paradox.


  14. BTW, If you get a phone call from your girlfriend and she is trapped under rubble in the part of New York where the aliens are killing anything that moves, the logical advice would be to tell her to stay put, and stay silent-

    If you get back, you and your friends will die. And even if you make it to her apartment and drag her out, any attempt to leave across alien-infested streets will increase the probability of dying to 100%. Horror films are not full of sound tactical planning.
    — —
    “..You can also reach Earth’s Dreamlands by…”
    Categorically a bad idea, no matter which method you use. Why? Because THERE ARE F*CKING ELDER GODS THERE!!!! That’s why.
    — — — — —
    If Beorn had been a human/Greenland shark shape-changer instead of a human-bear shape-changer, he might have helped the dwarwes and elves to recover some of the craftmanship secrets that were lost after the First Age. Because those critters are seriously long-lived.


  15. OK, they have clearly mixed up the description of a Hill Giant with a Fire Giant, so I would not consider the source tho be reliable 🙂



    Does this happen in Archaeology? After a few sentences of discussion, can you tell whether the person you are talking to is a trained Archaeologist or not?

    It does happen in Engineering, within specialised disciplines of Engineering, very much in the way that Hossenfelder describes for Physics – within your own specialised field, you can quickly suss out someone who is maybe a technician with his own pet quack theory about something. Likewise, you can quickly establish common ground and a cooperative relationship with another Engineer in the same field, regardless of whether he is from Russia, Brazil, China or wherever – because you struggle with solving the same kinds of problems, and speak the same universal language. At specialty international conferences, national boundaries cease to exist, and you are all part of one international brother-and-sister-hood. In my personal experience, it has always been this way. I know that it is also like this in the Earth Sciences. This interconnectedness has only increased in the modern interconnected world – I regularly talk to Engineers in my fields of interest in the UK, the Netherlands, Italy or wherever, on an almost daily basis, and we exchange information and ideas freely. Not so much with the USA – Engineers there tend to be very aggressive about capturing ‘markets’ in other countries, and will often take an enquiry seeking information as an invitation to ask for money. Not all – the people with the US Army Corps of Engineers are usually pretty good about information exchanges, and in some fields they are outstanding, in that they make their work freely available online, with no copyright restrictions, which are normally a big bugbear in Engineering.

    Of course, every profession has its quacks and crackpots, but they make themselves obvious pretty quickly.

    I understand that Archaeology is not quite like that – each region is different. But is there a common language by which you can tell a professional Archaeologist from a dilettante or hobbyist?


    1. Yeah, we do have amateurs with crackpot theories in archaeology, like Bob Lind of whom I’ve written here quite a lot, and the pyramid measurement guy. But I have a sense that most aren’t as eager to talk to pros as the physics crackpots seem to be.

      As for the language that identifies you as a pro or dilettante, I’d say that we have quite a number of well-read and knowledgeable dilettante archaeologists, so the dividing line doesn’t run between pros and everybody else. Archaeology has a much lower cost of entry than physics. You can make serious contributions to the knowledge base just by walking around in woods and pastures looking for stuff, e.g. rock art. But it doesn’t take long to identify a crackpot.

      I had one touching interaction with one old guy tough a few years ago. He was very well educated and had finished his university degree about 1960. He sent me a manuscript about archaeological theory where he was trying to identify cultural constants and create a universal interpretive framework for archaeology — typical 1960s neo-positivism. He was so disappointed when I told him that archaeology abandoned that goal 30 years ago and now deals only in the particulars of (pre-) historical situations, like we did before neo-positivism came along.


  17. Interesting. Disappointed no doubt, but hopefully he accepted what you said and dropped it. There is one crackpot Russian anthropologist called German Dziebel who keeps trying to convince everyone that anatomically modern humans evolved in the Americas, and he never gives up. Most of the genetics community, both pros and pathetic dabbling amateurs like me, have learned the lesson and just ignore him.

    I guess life as a Russian called German could be tough, though.

    Hopefully the Bob Linds of this world go the same way.

    Reconstructing ancient ecosystems is not easy, but it is critical to understanding ancient human migrations. A lot of theories have been reduced to nothing once demonstrated to have been physically impossible, e.g. anatomically modern humans could only possibly have migrated out of Africa during a few critical time windows.


  18. Some pretty sloppy science writing here:

    There is no known “native cave art” in Australia. There is a lot of rock art, some thought to be c.30,000 years old, but dating it is problematic. If the animal depicted in rock art really was a T. carnifex (and this is only a guess – no one actually knows what it was), then it was depicted as having striped hind quarters, much like a Thylacine. So it could maybe have been a depiction of a Thylacine, although it looks more cat-like than dog-like. Actually, it mostly looks marsupial-like. But Aboriginal rock art was very stylised and never very life-like, unlike some of the cave art in Europe, which was very life-like.

    Dating is so problematic because Aboriginal people were, and still are, in the habit of going back periodically and refreshing the art, by painting over the lines. So you might have an original piece of rock art that was painted 30,000 years ago, but which has been periodically freshened up right up to modern times.


  19. Showing off :
    Curing male infertility is one possible app for germline gene editing that can *not* be achieved by other means, so this might break through the GM phobia.
    And if a treatment for a uniquely female disease is thrown in with the GM editing, you would likely get twice the support.

    BTW when they edited my letter a possible misunderstanding crept in -Umeå University is studying PMDD but has not yet moved on to the genetic correlate for the condition.


  20. “Curing male infertility is one possible app for germline gene editing that can *not* be achieved by other means, so this might break through the GM phobia.”

    Why? First, this assumes that “GM phobia” is irrational. Some people try to put those who aren’t enthusiastic about GM into the same camp as AGW-deniers, chemtrail fetishists, anti-vaxxers, and so on, which is absurd. Second, why should acceptance of one type of genetic modification lead to acceptance of others, which are essentially unrelated? It would also be a bad thing if it happened, proving that those so convinced are not acting rationally. As to the argument that GM food allows more people to be fed, first, Malthus. At best, one can allow a larger population for a somewhat longer time, leading to greater problems in the future. The population of the world is too large as it is now; the priority should be getting it lower. OK, not necessarily by starving people, but the main problem now is not that there is not enough food, but also an unequal distribution of wealth. Also, if the goal is “feed as many as possible”, one must be a militant vegetarian.


  21. Philip, we all agree that germline GM should be done with great caution, if done at all.

    As for less controversial forms of GM it should also be done with caution, and not just to satisfy corporate profits but for the genuine benefit of everyone, within a regulatory framework.

    What I oppose is ideologically motivated rejection, the “no” that has no exceptions.
    We see the harm done by other ideologically driven rejections of options; the denial of global warming, the harm done to Britain by the “austerity at all cost” ideology, the “war on drugs” in USA that is just feeding the prison-industrial complex without actually bringing down drug use.
    GM organisms may -for instance- provide economically viable biofuels (preferably butanol), bacteria that preferentially eat cancer cells in oxygen-deprived centers of tumours, and make complex pharmaceutical compounds. (And GM crops should be made available to poor farmers without any strings, so they can rise from poverty)

    I want to see these options debated -without any bias- and without populists fishing for votes.


  22. Malthus lived and died during the Industrial Revolution. He had no way of knowing that demographic transition would happen, resulting in post-Malthusian societies. Ultimately, he has been proven wrong.

    Linear projections of population increase always prove to be wrong. Similarly, predictions about changes in dietary preferences always prove to be wrong. The doomsayers who predicted that the Chinese would all want to eat lots of steak once they could afford it, have been proven wrong.

    The only population explosion happening now is in Africa. The solution is very simple: let little girls go to school. That’s all you have to do. They will do the rest. This has been demonstrated many times over. The Indian states with the lowest birth rates are those with the highest % of literacy.

    Why do I find “not necessarily by starving people” chilling? What do you mean by “not necessarily”, Helbig? Do you mean this is one of the tolerable options?

    Good letter, Birger. I wish you well in your hope for a rational, unbiased discussion, but I am not optimistic.


  23. Meanwhile, DNA.LAND say that I am 4.4% Sardinian (?) and 1.8% Finnish (???). Mind you, that could possibly explain the source of my mtDNA – the Finnish, I mean, not the Sardinian.


  24. And also meanwhile, I note that hardly anyone anywhere has mentioned the great success by the Bangladeshis in achieving a major reduction in child mortality, by insisting that every home should have a sanitary toilet and running a campaign strongly discouraging defaecating in public. When people’s children have a much higher individual chance of surviving to adulthood, they have much less incentive to have a lot of children.

    This is a project in which, so far, India has failed dismally.


  25. Once demographic transition happens, birth rates drop to below replacement, and population starts to drop precipitously. This has happened so far in Japan, South Korea and is now happening in China. Most modern developed countries are complaining of reproduction below replacement and the resulting problem of ageing population. China’s population has now started to drop, and will soon be overtaken by India’s.

    In the most prosperous Indian states, which also happen to be the most literate, reproduction is now below replacement.

    One reasonable prediction which is not based on mindless linear projection is that by 2050, world population may be in precipitous decline – so, not in my lifetime, but within my daughter’s. People who are still hand-wringing about world population explosion have not been studying global demographic trends. No one needs to starve. The more pressing need is for clean drinking water and sanitation.


  26. It is worth noting, by the way, that Bangladesh is in transition to becoming a secular state – something else that few people bother to observe or mention. Recent killings of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh are a sign of desperation on the part of religious militants, who see themselves as losing the battle.


  27. Also meanwhile, next week I will complete learning Yang Style 88 Form Tai Chi (which actually has 108 separate movements, not 88). It has taken 3.5 months. My esteemed Teacher tells me this is a record; her previous best student took 4.5 months, and she thought at the time that he was a fast learner. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is one of those demonstrably falsifiable truisms. Now the trick will be to engage in years of constant daily practice to perfect what I have learned. This is not a pointless exercise – there are clear benefits in maintaining motor skills and balance, which become important as a person ages.

    As my reward, my Teacher has promised to teach me Sword Tai Chi. This will necessitate me acquiring a Chinese sword – one of the elegant long straight ones; pointy and sharp. I anticipate a minor battle with my wife over this. On the one hand, she will not like the idea of me dancing around waving a real sword. On the other hand, to me, authenticity is important. I don’t see a point in faking it with a lump of wood. My Teacher is on my side, despite the non-zero risk that I could accidentally disembowel her; she knows me well enough to be confident that won’t happen. She also understands the mentality of adult males (i.e. that they never actually grow up), and that walking around in public carrying a whacking great Chinese sword is the ultimate in cool and street cred, especially among a population that is 93.6% Han. People here don’t see this as cultural appropriation at all – they see it as a demonstration of respect for their culture. Emulation is the most sincere form of flattery.


  28. And in other news, life for a lot of East Africans should improve soon with the ongoing construction of the East African Railway. One of the things that should improve a lot is food distribution.


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