November Pieces Of My Mind #1

Treehouse ruin near the old chapel cemetery on Skogsö.
Tree-house ruin near the old chapel cemetery on Skogsö.
  • Fear me! I make bad puns in really, really bad Mandarin!
  • One Celsius and sleet. I have to drive for four hours today, so I’m switching tyres first.
  • Skänninge is dying. So many empty shop premises and housing properties. Facades flaking. Railway has cut off the eastern approaches to the town square. Last wave of investment in construction seems to have coincided with the mexibrick fad around 1970.
  • Incomprehensible: the re… play I guess? Of Toto’s “Africa” with a few hip-hop passages inserted. Why oh why?
  • Why doesn’t the Linköping City Library have an entrance towards the town centre? Enormous fucking building and you always have to walk around it.
    These popular lectures are really making my autumn!
  • Listen up, archaeokids. Lets say you first excavate context A, writing “A” on all the find baggies. Then you kind of think that you’ve gone into a new context, so you start calling it context B and writing “B” on the baggies. Then you decide that B is actually not different enough from A to be treated usefully as a separate entity. This is completely OK. Just put in the field notes that A=B. What is NOT OK is to re-use the label “B” for the completely different shit that is sitting under context A/B! NEVER RE-USE A CONTEXT IDENTIFIER FOR SOME OTHER SHIT!!! /Signed, the guy who is writing up the report and organising the finds.
  • Why do atheists consider Ray Comfort worthy of a response? He appears daft. Does he have a loud public voice?
  • Movie: Grand Budapest Hotel. Ruritanian comedy in a stylised Old Europe. Many big-name cameos. Grade: Pass With Distinction.
  • It struck me the other day that I got married twice during my 20s.
  • Love sleeping with socks on during the cold season!
  • If I were to watch the movies about Captain America, Doctor Strange and Superhero Thor, then that would be my first experience of these characters.
  • Took Cousin E on a long bike ride to the cake shop. First it taketh away, then it giveth.
  • When suggesting who’s in my pictures, Facebook seems to assume that I am likely to meet countrymen with whom I interact a lot on Fb. When in fact I tend to interact either live or on Fb.
  • Dreamed that I met a childhood friend. Knew I was dreaming. Told him “Wow, you haven’t changed much! But I guess that’s because I don’t have any recent information about what you look like.”
  • “Korkeakoulupedagogiikan apulaisprofessori!” Finnish has the best curse words.
  • Poor beat-up Anthony in “Fistful of Love”. )-:
  • Neatly dressed lady in her 50s, looks like a district attorney to me, reading Heinlein’s Starship Troopers on the tube.
  • Taken my flu shot!
  • Hey, what’s this sudden feeling of being a failure, with little to show for my past and nothing in particular to look forward to? Oh, hello November. It’s you again.
  • Shoveled snow for the first time this winter.
  • Remember when we used to think that Dubya was amazingly incompetent?
  • Reading local paper. Good letter to the editor about the municipality’s ability to house refugees. I feel great frustration at inability to click “like”.
  • Jrette was sad and frightened when she told me the bad news.
  • I just joined the Social Democrat Party. Let’s see what we can do.
  • I asked a professor about a UK lectureship. Can Swedish prehistorians be considered? Yes certainly, if they’re willing to teach British Prehistory. Replied I, my willingness is boundless but my ability rather limited.
  • Stockholm’s bus services are suspended due to unseasonably heavy snow. I walked 4.5 km from Slussen to Sickla, where I’m giving a talk to the local historical society.
  • Get crazy with the Cheez Whiz
  • Missed the day’s first movie because of snow still messing public transport up.
  • Wonder if you’re a member of the elite? Handy tip: if you think individuals can be “elites”, then you ain’t.

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 “November Pieces Of My Mind #1”

  1. Well, if you want more, apparently there is a new method of mining, called Block Caving. The idea is that you tunnel in underneath an ore body, then you blast out the rock underneath the ore body, so that the support to the ore is removed and the ore falls into the tunnel by gravity, and ‘ideally’ keeps flowing down into the tunnel as you remove the ore that has already dropped.

    That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. Mine safety is never brilliant, but I would be hard put to it to think of a riskier way to operate a mine.


  2. Birger@50: See Wikipedia’s page on the Pledge of Allegiance. The words “under God” were indeed added in 1954. The idea of those words goes back somewhat further; supporters of the change claimed that Abraham Lincoln used those words in the Gettysburg address, though not all versions of the latter text include the phrase (Lincoln may have deviated from his prepared remarks there).


  3. Speaking of the Gettysburg Address (the anniversary of which is tomorrow), here is a classic: the Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation. Be sure to click through for the rendering of the opening line, “Four score and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation,” as an Excel bar chart.

    John and I are old enough to remember the days before PowerPoint became ubiquitous. It’s a useful tool, but one of its major downsides is that PowerPoint makes it easier than ever to give a bad talk. When I used the predecessor technology, transparent sheets displayed on an overhead projector, it was my practice to make a list of what would be on each slide before I made the first slide, because those acetate sheets were a finite resource (especially evenings and weekends, when the people with keys to the supply cabinet were not around but the grad students were getting work done). Today the marginal cost of adding one more slide is effectively zero, so one of the most common failure modes in talks is to have too many slides for the time allotted.


  4. Eric@55 – Hell, yes. But then I’m old enough to remember the days before personal computers, when I had to travel to international conferences clutching my precious box of photographic slides, to be projected onto a screen using an old fashioned slide projector – you needed to compose those buggers really carefully. When I think of some of the agonising stuff we had to do as undergraduates, like using 7 figure logarithmic and trigonometric tables in land surveying classes; endless calculations using a slide rule, and those ridiculous hand calculating machines I had to learn how to use in mathematics, which were like museum artefacts (and in fact now are museum artefacts) – and the day I graduated, the first really affordable pocket electronic calculator became available, which meant that I could put all that junk in a drawer because it was all instantly redundant.

    Automation just can’t come quickly enough for me.

    Speaking of old shit: under the heading of research I genuinely never want to be involved with:

    I would happily have settled for the pork and rye bread, myself.


  5. my precious box of photographic slides

    When I was a grad student, a few old-timers were still using that technology. Among them was Carl Sagan–I attended what was probably his last scientific talk, at an American Geophysical Union meeting in the mid-1990s.

    There is a classic how-to guide for scientific talks, “Guidelines for Giving a Truly Terrible Talk” (PDF). The original title of the document apparently was “35 mm Slides: A Manual for Technical Presentations”, attributed to Dan Pratt and Lev Ropes, and published by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. There is also a companion piece for poster presenters, “How to Prepare a Perfectly Putrid Poster”.


  6. Hey, who are you calling an old timer?

    When you are talking about the crucial boundary area between geotechnical engineering and geology, you need to illustrate with good crisp photographs of ground conditions. In the days before digital photography and Powerpoint (which was not *that* long ago), that meant using 35mm slides.

    Things are hugely better/easier now. I was an early adopter of digital photography, which I did with great pleasure because I was sick of having to use lousy film developing shops and wanted full personal control over the whole process of making a good photograph. That was a continuation of something that started when I was 16 years old, developing and printing my own black and white photos in a dark room.

    I got my first personal computer in 1992. No Internet then. I remember when it was, because you had to buy software on floppy disks (remember those ridiculous things?). I bought some software called “Reader Rabbit”, sat my 2 year old daughter on my knee and tried to use it to teach her to read. She was entertained by the cartoon pictures of the rabbit for about, oh, 30 seconds. By the time she was 3, all she needed me for was to switch on the computer and act as a comfortable chair booster for her to sit on while she operated the program, so the software purchase was not a total waste.

    By the time she was 8 I got sick of her hogging my PC when I needed to use it, so she got her own laptop. By the time she was 9, I got sick of her hogging my PC to use the Internet, so she got her own Internet connection. I gave her a good, short, clear written piece to read on how kids should keep themselves safe on the Internet, and then plugged her in and left her to it. Unlike other parents I knew, I never secretly checked on the content she was viewing. Basically, if you don’t know your own kid by age 9, you never will. Giving her her own Internet connection was one of the best things I ever did – by the time she was 10 her general knowledge and awareness of current events was amazing.

    When she was 12, Hong Kong was plunged into the SARS epidemic, and all of the schools were closed for 6 weeks, and the kids were effectively put into isolation at home to keep them safe. At my daughter’s school, the teachers fed the lessons and homework to the kids by Internet, so that they would not fall behind the curriculum during the lockdown. For the very few kids who did not have home access to a PC and an Internet connection, the other kids printed out the stuff and the mothers formed an informal network to get the material to those kids. It all worked like a well oiled machine – Kid + Mum Power in action.

    And that was it, basically. Since then, I have had to surrender two Macbook Air laptops that I had bought for myself (because I needed them) after owning each of them for only about 3 weeks because my daughter decided she needed them for her university studies (my kid’s education trumps my own personal needs every time), so she now has a desktop, 3 laptops, a smart phone and the latest iPod. I have given up buying laptops because I just can’t hold on to one for more than a few weeks before she decides she needs it. And she would probably have taken over my desktop as well if I had not bought her an identical one.

    Someone told me the secret a long time ago, and I probably should have listened – if you want to stop your kid from taking over your computer, buy her one that is better than yours 🙂


  7. “Barley dormancy mutation suggests beer motivated early farmers”
    In retrospect it seems so obvious;- of course they would exert themselves to get more booze. The resource base for population growth -and ultimately civilization- was a spinoff ! Homer Simpson as symbol for the neolithic revolution?

    (I do not know which crops they used for alcohol production in Eastern Asia. And what about mesoamerica, is it possible to get alcohol from maize?)


  8. Birger@60: Rice wine exists in some East Asian cultures. Sake is an example. And of course in the 19th and 20th centuries they adapted Western alcoholic beverages: most of those countries now have locally produced beer, some of which I even find drinkable.

    I don’t know if maize is routinely used as an alcohol base, but lots of other plants are used. Tequila comes from a plant called agave which is native to Mexico. The Japanese have plum wine as an alternative to sake. Apple cider is common in both England and the US. And lots of fruits get turned into wine–I have even had jalapeño pepper wine (made in Amherst, NH of all places).


  9. Written records from the Shang Dynasty suggest they were prodigious rice wine drinkers. The elite were in the habit of drinking the stuff from very oddly shaped bronze drinking vessels. (The Shang were also prodigious makers of large bronze funerary objects and, from the number of these objects still in existence, they seem to have been into mass production of them – prompting the jocular comment from my daughter during one museum visit in Taiwan, when I suggested that there were more bronze objects which we had not yet seen: “Ar, ya see one ancient Chinese bronze object, you’ve seen ’em all.”) The Shang produced a particularly fine form of bronze which was, unfortunately, due to its high lead content. Some researchers experimented with putting rice wine into bronze drinking vessels of the same composition, and determined that, within a fairly short space of time, 30 minutes or so, the wine would take up enough lead from the vessel to actually kill someone.

    So there is now a theory that the famous female courtesan, priestess and military general Fu Hao might have died at such a young age due to the effects of accumulated lead poisoning. (She died c. 1200 BC at the age of about 30.)

    In NE China they brew an alcoholic drink from sorghum. You have to drink it by throwing the whole glass of the stuff down your throat in one gulp. If you sip it, it just makes your lips turn numb so that you can’t talk. You can drink this stuff for about an hour and feel perfectly OK…until you try to stand up, whereupon you find that your legs are completely paralysed.


  10. Some Swedish marine archaeologists have found numerous well-preserved wrecks in the Black Sea, 2000 m down, using remotely controlled vehicles. This evening Swedish TV will have a documentary about it. There is no vertical mixing of the deep water, so the lack of oxygen protects wood from most organisms.
    There shold be plenty of Roman and Greek vessels, and the odd Viking ship, too.
    I wonder if the sedimentation rate is low enough to allow ancient sunken driftwood to stick up above the bottom. In that case, once the growth sites are identified from isotope content, you get a dendrocronology goldmine for the entire Black Sea catchment area.
    But what I really hope will be found is the odd bronze-age ship with preserved items that would normally be destroyed.


  11. Fidel was not the only one to die this weekend.
    A colleague of mine with an office in the same corridor passed away yersterday, from cancer. He was sixty-three.
    And yet another working in my corridor corridor has been hospitalised for cancer within the same month.
    (Trump, of course, will live into his nineties, just like the Ayatollah or that useless generalissiomo in Taiwan.)


  12. Ok, here is some more up-beat stuff:
    The Daily Mash: “Scientists believe reality is a dream in racist nan’s mind ” Excerpt: “OUR reality is just a dream in the mind of a nan who doesn’t like foreigners, it has been claimed.Researchers at the Institute for Studies were trying to find a rational explanation for why everything is going insane when they hit upon the ‘Nan-Mind’ theory.”
    Also: Woman phones in sick with ‘post-truth’ excuse
    BBC newsreaders perform ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ for Children In Need
    Black Friday was in Dante’s Inferno


  13. Birger@66: Huh, a likely story. In the UK just after the war, they had food rationing. Australians were parcelling up stuff like butter, steak, even lard for frying their fish and chips, and posting it off to them. Were the bastards gratful? Like hell they were – they repaid us by invading our country, making it even more Anglo than it already was. ‘Reffos’ from southern and eastern Europe were regarded as ‘not white’ in those ‘good old days’.

    No thanks.


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