April Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • There is no year zero in the common era. 1 BC is followed by AD 1. This is because Dionysius Exiguus worked around AD 500, long before the Indian concept of mathematical zero reached European scholars via the Arabs.
  • I don’t quite understand why the guy in Springsteen’s “The River” is so super sad. It’s not in the lyrics.
  • I love Turkish fast food and “Here Comes The Rain Again”.
  • Thorn-stabbed left eye acting up again nine months after that brush-clearing session at Skällvik Castle. Right-hand one showing its sympathy by clouding up too, leaving me unable to read or write much. Annoying. But eye specialist is not worried, so nor am I.
  • I want music discovery algorithms to distinguish between songs I dislike and songs I love but don’t want to hear all the time.
  • Movie: Your Name. Anime feature with beautiful scenery, conventional humans and a confused supernatural time-travel body-exchange motif. Grade: OK.
  • Today’s my 18th anniversary of editing Fornvännen.
  • -thwaite in English place names is cognate with Sw. Tveta, originally having to do with the wood chips produced when felling trees to clear land.
  • DNA has identified a bunch of strangers as my 3rd or 4th cousins. I’ve contacted them and started to work with the interested ones to identify our link. In one case we know which Bohuslän hamlet the couple lived in. In another case we know in which two Värmland parishes they lived. Fun puzzle-solving exercise.
  • Reading Becky Chambers’s Hugo Award finalist novel A Closed And Common Orbit with two parallel narratives. One is about a whiny adolescent android who does nothing much, and it does not interest me. The other is about a 10-y-o Robinson Crusoe scavenging in a huge tech dump. That keeps me reading.
  • It’s kind of hard to play games with secret traitors when Cousin E is involved. He thinks it’s super fun to be allowed to betray the team, so he does it as fast as he can regardless of whether he’s a traitor or not, all while giggling hysterically. This tends to make life easy for the actual traitors.
  • Xlnt weird, dark, druggy song: Timber Timbre’s “Black Water”. Turn up the bass!
  • ResearchGate and LinkedIn do a spectacularly bad job of identifying academic jobs I’m qualified for.
  • Movie: Topsy Turvy. Gilbert & Sullivan and the original production of The Mikado. Grade: Great!
  • Danish encouragement: “Men du er jo selvskrevet til jobbet!! SØG DET, DU VIL VÆRE ET KÆMPE FJOLS HVIS IKKE DU GØR DET!!” Honestly, who wants to be a kæmpe fjols?
  • Saturn’s ocean moon Enceladus has recently been discovered to have environments that would be habitable to Earth’s methanogenic bacteria. If it turns out that there is not in fact indigenous life there, then I think we should seed the place!
  • Dear UK: get a permanent citizen registry and scrap the notion of “registering to vote”. In Sweden I just bring my ID to the polling station.
  • The concepts of “man cold” and “man flu” suggest a traditional masculinity where men shouldn’t show weakness. Very 1950s.
  • Woo-hoo! I lost my cherry on this day in 1987! 30 years a lover!
  • Advice for you ladies: take nerds to bed. As someone so wisely put it — nerds read up, and unlike the jocks they always do their best since they can barely believe that they’re actually getting laid. Nerds like to figure out how stuff works and optimise.
  • Frustrating. In live debates, people often show signs of not listening to what I say, but to their expectations about what someone with my demeanour would say. It’s not that I make long speeches or use unfamiliar words or aggressive ones. I always make an effort to speak briefly, simply, to the point. But time and time again I realise that people I agree with believe that I don’t. I have a vague perception that they may see me as too bossy and confident to really be on their side.
  • The buzz word “digitisation” is used commonly and extremely vaguely in Swedish politics. It seems to mean “Internet and automatisation and scifi stuff”. It is at the same time something good and modern, and something scary that deletes jobs. It is at the same time inevitable and something that deserves political support to happen.

Author: Martin R

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

91 thoughts on “April Pieces Of My Mind #2”

  1. Super interesting about H. naledi! Thanks John!

    Recalls what S.J. Gould one wrote: given how modern humans treat each other, it’s a good thing there aren’t slightly less intelligent hominids around any more…


  2. “There is a lot of outrage that Saudi Arabia was permitted to join a UN group addressing women’s rights.
    The Swedish opposition had a lot of justified (but hypocfritical) criticism about Swedish support for the Saudi representative.”

    Note that Amnesty International recently started supporting the right to prostitution, which demonstrates that not everyone who thinks of himself as a liberal/leftist thinks the same.


  3. “The Fast and the (Long) Dead”

    As opposed to “the quick and the dead”, which is actually from the Bible (King James version), not a reference to pedestrians in car-centric cities.


  4. Martin, you need to change name to something Jewish-sounding if you want this class of, er, readership communications.

    I prefer Tevye’s attitude about this in Fiddler on the Roof:

    Yes, I know that we are Your chosen people. But please, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?


  5. So, one of the big four Australian banks takes a responsible position on climate change (well, at least it’s a start) and promptly get criticised and ridiculed by a Federal Government Minister for it.


    I applaud Westpac Bank for taking the position that they have, and if I was King of Australia that Government Minister would immediately be relieved of his responsibilities and placed in stocks in a public place where everyone could hurl shit at him.

    But that is not going to happen.

    The stink of hypocrisy is overwhelming.


  6. I’m just posting this here now for the sake of promptness – there is far too much complex information for me to take it in quickly or be able to offer any kind of sensible commentary.

    But just bear in mind that a lot of the dating definitely looks screwy. That is, it looks screwy, but it might not be.

    But we are obviously going to see a lot more genomic information coming out of Africa in the coming 10 years, which has implications for everyone in the world, given that we are all African, ultimately.


  7. Is there anything worse than a slow leak?

    Yes. An intermittent problem, also known as a Heisenbug. Because it will invariably work correctly when you show somebody knowledgeable or call tech support.


  8. Oh yes – like an intermittent worrying-sounding noise in a car engine.

    Vehicle service personnel are at least as ineffective in tracking those down as they are finding and fixing a slow leak in a tyre.

    I’ll know what to tell the Cantonese-speaking mechanic next time I have one of those: “It’s a Heisenbug. It only happens when you’re not here to hear it.”


  9. Now, here’s a thought to blow your mind: for most of the existence of anatomically modern humans, the Khoisan people have had the largest effective population size.


    All of us born of populations living outside of subSharan Africa derive from a founding population that migrated out about 60,000 years ago of no more than about 1,000 individuals. In other words, our ancestors went through a pretty severe bottleneck, which African people did not go through – and as that paper shows, climate change within Africa favoured expansion of the Khoisan populations in southern Africa while people living in other parts of Africa suffered a population decline and loss of some genetic diversity.

    In fact, non-Africans have gone through serial bottlenecks as people split up and migrated to different parts of the world, with serial founder effects.

    Of course, it’s necessary to factor in archaic human admixture, both for non-Africans and Africans, but that amounts to no more than about 2% of the modern human genome for most people.


  10. Another way to think about it is that for most of the existence of modern humans, the most common people on earth, i.e. the people with the largest population, were the ‘Bushmen’ of southern Africa. And they remain the most genetically diverse, despite undergoing great population reduction within historical time.

    Compared to them, we’re all trivial in terms of genetic diversity. I find that amazing. And somewhat humbling, somehow.


  11. Yeah – I’m certainly no expert, but I suspect the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis is pseudo-science. Which means this Göbekli Tepe paper is in the same category.

    I would like to get a more informed view on that, though.

    I would have thought the genetic continuity of Clovis found in the Anzick boy, which I think straddles the start of the Younger Dryas, should just about kill it.


  12. Axolotl@80: I agree that the Göbekli Tepe paper is probably bogus. I’m not an expert in the subject, either, but as I understand it, consensus opinion is that an influx of fresh water in the Northwest Atlantic (due to melting of North American glaciers) interfered with the thermohaline circulation. A sufficiently large comet might do it, but unless you have good evidence for it (e.g., an impact crater of the right age and size), one should prefer the non-catastrophic theory. The K-T asteroid theory had compelling evidence in its favor, such as a single stratum with an unusually high iridium abundance in many widely separated locations, even before they found the crater (Chixulub). I am not aware of comparable evidence from the Younger Dryas.


  13. Eric@83 – Yep. I think we might have to chalk this piece of work up to confirmation bias.

    They have started with the presumption that the impact hypothesis could be correct, and then they have made their interpretation of the carvings fit the theory, thereby providing “compelling evidence.”

    Confirmation bias is the twin sister of cognitive dissonance – latching onto anything that appears to support the theory, and ignoring any evidence that suggests the theory might just be an intricate fabrication. That’s one way to get “compelling evidence” – by ignoring all the evidence that does not fit.

    I was initially interested because of my interest in tsunami events caused by megathrust earthquakes on subduction zones of tectonic boundaries, which are cyclic, but which recur with periods of hundreds or even thousands of years. They throw up the challenging question of how to warn people living hundreds of years in the future that the events are going to occur again and that they need to be prepared for them.

    This question came up after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami – that was Sweden’s worst natural disaster, in terms of Swedish lives lost, and it happened to them in southern Thailand.

    In the past the Japanese came up with some different and quite ingenious ways of doing that, in different communities in different parts of the country. Unfortunately, no one foresaw the Fukushima event – at least, not the magnitude of it.

    Of course, tsunami can be caused by other types of events as well; those are not cyclic, and are largely probably impossible to predict, in the generality.


  14. Sorry, episodic thinking – one way that the consultants to the Thai Government thought of to provide warning to people living hundreds of years in the future is to build massive, long-lasting monuments. (That’s why Göbekli Tepe made me think of the subject of tsunami warnings.)

    Another thing they thought of doing, which would fit the need for preparedness in southern Thailand, is to build lots of pyramids for people to run up, to get themselves to a high enough elevation to be above the highest tsunami wave height – assuming you are confident you can predict that. But you need to build lots of ways up the pyramids – because otherwise, inevitably what will happen (at least in this part of the world) is that people will stand back to let the elderly and infirm climb up first, and those people will slow everyone else down who needs to get up there in a hurry.


  15. Unfortunately, no one foresaw the Fukushima event – at least, not the magnitude of it.

    I’ve long since lost the link for this, but apparently there was an event of similar magnitude off the Tohoku coast some 1200 years earlier. Apparently there were signs in the region which said (loosely translated): Don’t build houses closer to the shore than this. Those signs proved accurate in 2011: areas closer to shore were devastated, while only minor damage was observed further inland.

    Providing warnings to people living hundreds of years in the future (or even thousands, in cases like the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository) is a hard problem. The Japanese have had it relatively easy here: linguistic drift has been considerably slower than for many other languages. Even most native English speakers need annotated guides to understand Shakespeare’s plays, and that was a bit more than 400 years. Chaucer’s English differs enough from modern English that it’s effectively a foreign language (the past, as they say, is another country). How do you tell the people of 5000 AD that they should stay away from this mountain top?


  16. You have some of the details about the 2011 tsunami wrong, Eric, but I’m past caring. The modern inhabitants had got the messages and had built protective tsunami walls, and the builders of the Fukushima power station had also got the message, but the 2011 event proved to be a lot bigger in magnitude than that 1200 years earlier. But like I say, I’m past caring.

    As for warnings, symbols or simple pictures are far more effective in conveying meaning about hazards to people generally than words anyway. This is a subject that I happen to know a lot about. That is not the difficulty – the difficulty is in creating a warning monument that will be certain to survive for thousands of years.

    If that is what the builders of Göbekli Tepe were trying to do (and it’s a big if), they certainly succeeded in terms of longevity.


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