July Pieces Of My Mind #3

skydeban
Skydebanemuren, Copenhagen
  • Mother, there is a lady on Twitter who posts pictures of hyena poo.
  • Skydebanemuren: found an incredible neo-Gothic structure at one end of a little park. Turns out it’s one of the world’s most over-decorated bullet traps from back when the park was a rifle range.
  • Enviro-hotel equals massive ethno-kitsch overdose. The bamboo, the natural materials and the ethnic idols invite us to imagine that we’re eco-friendly tribespeople. But the leather furniture and the hunting trophies reveal that we’re actually colonial officers and administrators. And on the stereo, Norah Jones croons that she doesn’t know why she didn’t come.
  • Our hotel is next to an international women’s counselling centre and a strip club.
  • The US president is tweeting threats in all caps at the leader of Iran.
  • In A.C. Clarke’s 1961 story “Before Eden”, scientists find life near one of Venus’s poles, then dump a bag of picnic waste (paper cups, cigarette butts, possibly latrine) at the site and contaminate it irrevocably.
  • I spoke to Erik Andersson of the Fandompodden podcast about archaeology, scifi and fantasy.
  • My daughter follows several youtubers. I have now explained to her what a tuber is: a fleshy root or rhizome.
  • I just ordered the Player’s Handbook for an enthusiastic young lady who played her first D&D sesh the other day. Funnily for me, she got into D&D by listening to a podcast of people playing. I read recently that the game has never sold better than it does now!
  • Copy editing a journal paper where the author writes “this thing is interpreted as” when they mean “I interpret this thing as”. Nope, you ain’t getting away with that.
  • Dan Carlin of the excellent Hard-core History podcast says “Robinson Caruso”. Such a great singer, with an audience of one!
  • Sudden epiphany: the title of Erasure’s 1992 covers EP, Abbaesque, is a pun on “Arabesque”.
skarvar
Urban cormorant settlement. It ain’t pretty, but they’re an indigenous species and the birds themselves look super cool. Fugleøen, Sortedams Sø, Copenhagen.
strand
Sjællands Odde
piano
Grand piano, Poul Henningsen 1931. Danish Museum of Art & Design, Copenhagen.

Author: Martin R

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

52 thoughts on “July Pieces Of My Mind #3”

  1. Wouldn’t “youtube” be “dutuban” in Swedish (thta is, the “you-tuba”? Making people creating content for it “dutubaister” (or is it “dutubare”)?

    On this end, I am preparing for just over a week of camping by a castle ruin in Northern Wales, where I will be cooking on a camping stove and do a lot of rapier fencing (and possibly run a few classes).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Copy editing a journal paper where the author writes “this thing is interpreted as” when they mean “I interpret this thing as”. Nope, you ain’t getting away with that.

    Passive voice should be avoided. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I have to give credit to Fred Clark of Slacktivist for inspiring the following thought:

    Donald Trump is known to have certain phobias. So part of the reason why he hates the Statue of Liberty may be that he is channeling David Bowman: “The thing’s hollow — it goes on forever — and — oh my God! — it’s full of stairs!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Geometry of the Sample Frequency Spectrum and the Perils of Demographic Inference.
    http://www.genetics.org/content/early/2018/07/31/genetics.118.300733

    I’m posting that abstract to illustrate only one thing – what absolute gibberish it is. How in hell can methods exhibit pathological behaviour?

    I noticed that its publication was warmly welcomed by some guy with a Chinese name – turns out the guy warmly welcoming its publication is one of the authors of the paper.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They are discussing mathematical methods, which can and do exhibit pathological behavior if you are not careful and try to use them under conditions where the underlying assumptions are not valid. For instance, if you attempt a fluid simulation in which waves can propagate more than one grid interval per time step, nasty things happen which do not happen in the real world. Fitting a function with too many parameters to a data set is another thing that can go wrong, because solution methods assume a matrix that is not even approximately degenerate, and the matrices that arise in this technique often are approximately degenerate. In theory you can fit a tenth order polynomial to eleven data points (there is one such polynomial that will pass through all of those points), but I will not believe that any of your coefficients are meaningful.

      I am less familiar with the probability methods these authors discuss, but am not surprised they can blow up in your face if misapplied. Many scientists treat their computational packages as black boxes. Most of the time they can get away with it, but once in a while somebody will push a favorite method too far.

      Pathological behavior of mathematical methods was a major contributor to the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Many Wall Street and City firms made assumptions about the variability of prices on securities that led them to underestimate their downside exposure. When the markets are producing what your models claim are 25 standard deviation discrepancies several days in a row, as the then CFO of Goldman Sachs said at the time, something is wrong with your models.

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    2. Got it, I think. Also used in Computer Science (imprecisely, but then it seems everyone uses the term imprecisely, including in medicine).

      I became familiar with the term ill-conditioned as an undergraduate. But when I subsequently used the term when talking to other engineers, I just got blank looks.

      So, is the square root of two pathological, or just irrational? Or is irrationality pathological?

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      1. There are several terms for numbers that reflect the unwillingness of people at the time to accept their existence. “Irrational” is one of those terms. IIRC it was Pythagoras who first proved (at least in the West) that the square root of two could not be represented as the ratio of two integers. “Negative” comes from Latin “negare”, which means “to deny” (most Romans were unfamiliar with the concept of debt, a way it is possible for somebody to have less than nothing). More recently came the concept of imaginary numbers (not the ones Hobbes is talking about here), which are no less real than the so-called real numbers.

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    3. All models are wrong. Some are just more wrong than others. And some can be wildly wrong when applied outside of a closely defined set of conditions. One incorrect assumption can totally invalidate a model. Something I keep bumping up against is that engineering mathematicians keep formulating models for soil and rock behaviour assuming that they are homogeneous and isotropic – which they never are. Never. Not ever. Simplifying assumptions are made to enable models to be formulated which render the models…well…you would never want to just rely on a model alone, you always cross-check multiple different ways, or should. That obsession by engineering mathematicians for modeling ideal materials which never exist in the real world almost seems like a pathological condition in itself.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I understand why people like to use simplified models. I am a physicist by training, and we have our jokes about spherical cows, but the reason we tell those jokes is because they tell a truth about how physicists often work. (Other scientists, too: I own a book titled Consider a Spherical Cow, which is about the use of approximations in environmental sciences.) There are situations when the exact shape of the cow does not matter, so it makes sense to make such an approximation. Other times, it is better to assume that your cow is cylindrical. And sometimes, such as when you are doing a detailed calculation, you need to know the exact shape. A key skill for physicists is understanding when they can assume a spherical cow and when they can’t.

        Homogeneous and isotropic soil is one of those “spherical cow” approximations which, as you correctly note, are obviously inappropriate. I can understand the assumption of homogeneous soil (depending on the scale of your project, it might even be appropriate), but this minor detail called gravity means your soil is definitely not isotropic.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “a lady on Twitter…”
    Ok, posting photos of Hyaena poo is pretty weird. Weirder still would be the person who goes searching for ladies who post pictures of Hyaena poo.

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    1. Recently, there was a female geneticist in America who wrote a lengthy article about how female hyenas are role models for feminists. The whole thing was absurd. Responses to that: 1. No, they’re not – she had a lot of her facts about them wrong. 2. Don’t anthropomorphize animals – it’s never useful or informative. 3. Having academic qualifications in human genetics does not qualify her to be knowledgable in this subject area. You get this with scientists now and again, who stray outside of their own disciplines and think they are in a position to prognosticate about all manner of things. In reality, she is no more knowledgeable about this than anyone else, and a lot less knowledgeable about it than some. But a lot of readers would probably just see “female biological scientist” and swallow it all.

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      1. Yes, it’s very much like people who say “prognosticate” instead of “pontificate” 😉 . I’d say she knows nothing about the reproductive life of hyaenas. It’s not something I’d wish on a human or animal.

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  6. Re. language.
    In a book about older regional swedish names for animals, I found “appenbacka” for bat. Swedish afton = evening and packa = crone.

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    1. …so the swedish name for “Batwoman” should really be Appenbacka.
      The older name of the male character was, quite correctly, “Läderlappen”, another archaic word, still in use when the first cartoons were translated.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The Guardian has a long article,
    “Denialism: What drives people to reject the truth?”
    It is about how in the age of Trump we are moving from denialism to post-denialism. For instance, there is no longer a big social cost to saying “I do not care if global warming is true and a few million people in Bangladesh are displaced by the sea, I just want to go on as I have before”.
    Neo-nazis are beginning to not bother with holocaust denialism, they are up-front about wanting to wipe out jews.

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  8. The Rakhigarhi results are reportedly finally out, but I can’t be bothered to talk about them, except to say what has already been said multiple times, that they show no steppe admixture, which points to a relatively late Indo-Aryan intrusion into South Asia after 1500 BCE, which means that they were not implicated in the decline of the Harappan (Indus Valley) civilization. But they did arrive, eventually. Let’s move on and leave the warring factions in India to fight it out among themselves (Pakistanis don’t seem to have any problem with it, but then they don’t revere the Rig Veda). I’ve read so much infighting that I’m sick of it and want no part of it. It gets very nasty, it’s unedifying, and not at all useful. And it’s not like I have any dog in that fight.

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  9. Razib: “In the 2000s, and even today, there was an idea that some single mutation might have allowed for the “Great Leap Forward” into behavioral modernity. I think that that model is probably wrong, and modern humanity was a more gradual and stepwise development. During the Eemian interglacial from 130 to 115 thousand years ago, agriculture did not emerge. No “lost civilizations” to our knowledge. Something happened to our species over the last 100,000 years. Probably biological, though in a way that facilitates cultural plasticity and evolution. But genetically I bet it wasn’t that “one thing.” It was a lot of different things.”

    I have been saying for quite a while now that there was no human 50,000 year “cultural explosion”. Not because I am particularly smart or insightful. I’m not. I’m just a simple dumb Civil Engineer who has a hobby interest in where humans came from and how we came to be what we are, and all the cool stuff we did along the way. But to me, the falsity of this model was glaringly obvious – there were far too many data points that didn’t fit the model.

    What has finally torpedoed it is the recent finding “No Evidence for Recent Selection at FOXP2 among Diverse Human Populations.” FOXP2 is the gene that was supposed to have conferred the ability on humans for complex speech – the ‘language gene’, vital to human evolution and the achievement of behavioural modernity. The recent research is conclusive – it isn’t. The reason people believed the ‘language gene’ theory was because they wanted to – the data were never sufficient to support such a conclusion, and now these researchers have shot it screaming down in flames.

    Who knows why agriculture didn’t emerge during the Eemian interglacial? Maybe it didn’t need to. Maybe conditions weren’t right for it to happen. There are far too many unkowns to simply conclude that humans didn’t develop agriculture then because they were not behaviourally modern enough. That’s just dumb. Even I can see that.

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    1. One of the necessary conditions for agriculture to develop is a reasonably stable climate. It makes no sense to put your food supply in the ground in the spring if you have no confidence it will be there come harvest time. The climate has been particularly stable over the last 10,000 years or so–some minor fluctuations, but nothing like what was seen earlier. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that agriculture developed around the beginning of that interval. The climate during the Eemian Interglacial may not have been stable enough to develop agriculture.

      One of the worries about global warming, especially beyond two degrees, is the risk of breaking agriculture. China and India have the high populations they do today because they have large quantities of land that are especially well-suited to agriculture, and much of the rest of the world depends on wheat and corn grown in the central US (as Yakov Smirnoff used to say, there is nothing like real Russian bread made from real Kansas wheat). If any or all of these places become unsuitable for agriculture, mass starvation is likely to result.

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      1. As for climate change, we are seeing right now what that will do to agriculture, with large parts of Australia going through a very bad drought during what would normally be the wet season.

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  10. Leucine is the most important amino acid for building muscle.

    The bad news is that it doesn’t seem to work on old people.

    I have never believed that you can build big muscles by swallowing dozens of amino acid capsules every day, anyway. You need to get your nutrition from food, not pills. Pills don’t work. Well, some supplements work – iodised salt will prevent iodine deficiency.

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  11. During Eem and other interglacials, the temperature gradually dropped as the ocean absorbed carbon dioxide. During our interglacial, stirring of the southern ocean has instead allowed carbon dioxide to build up even before the anthropogenic carbon dioxide buildup (which started with intense agriculture spreading during the iron age).
    I found the reference to carbon dioxide and the southern ocean at phys org just a week ago.

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  12. “Oh My God, The Tank Is On Fire” (Comparison) -How hard is it to escape a tank that has been hit?
    https://bit.ly/2nhALLI First the Panther, a Stuart light recce tank, a Comet cruiser tank, a Churchill infantry tank, a T-34-85 and finally the infamous Sherman (small hatch version). You might be surprised.
    BTW the British had a lot of good design ideas before the war, they just weren’t good at implementing them in a practical way.

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    1. One thing I learned in my undergraduate days was that every American or British tank had to be liftable on a standard-sized, 1940-vintage dock crane. The superheavy tanks which the Germans built were just not an option for fighting a war overseas. I also like this article by Adam Tooze pointing out that its not really cheating if you turn your best recruits into gunners and aircrew and logistics officers rather than infantry, even if that means that some wargamer in the distant future will value your infantry at 2 points and their infantry at 3 points https://adamtooze.com/2017/08/27/blitzkrieg-manque-new-kind-war-interpreting-allied-victory-normandy-campaign/

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    2. Interesting piece by Tooze.

      I watched a very good lecture by an American military historian on why the German armed forces kept fighting ferociously even after it was abundantly evident to all of them that the war was lost. Long story short, he put it down to a couple of things: (1) Most of the German military believed the Nazi propaganda and were ideologically driven, right down to the lowest ranking soldiers. There is lots of evidence for this (including some fascinating secretly recorded conversations between captured German troops when they thought no one could hear them – one German historian has written a book based on such recordings). (2) German officers were brutal in meting out summary punishment to their own soldiers for perceived under-performance, often shooting them on the spot.

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  13. I think Trump got out-trumped for once.
    “Ex-leader of SC Republican Party says he’s Christ and God told him to kill mom’s dog, police say” https://bit.ly/2LV2UGZ
    What a dumb guy. If you are a Republican, you sacrifice to Mammon, Priapus and Sterculius, in that order.

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  14. The Guardian has the article
    “Socialist modernism; Remembering the architecture of the former East Bloc”
    Some of those buildings look genuinely good; I would be happy if our local philistine town council built something like this instead of the neo-brutalist Le Corbuiser garbage they squeeze into every leftover green area as cheaply as possible.

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    1. Don’t. Don’t be fooled. After the Irish referendum on abortion rights, which passed by a very large majority, he was very quick to follow up with a trip to Ireland and pronounce that “all abortion is wrong.” So that’s: (1) attempting to directly interfere in Ireland’s democratic political process, and (2) showing his true colours on rights for women; i.e. they don’t have any.

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  15. Fuck, that Steve Jobs was a nasty human being and an awful father. I am talking “worse than The Donald” awful.

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    1. Stevie Nicks turned 70 40 years ago when her insane cocaine habit came very close to totally destroying her vocal apparatus. I know, I saw her live – she could barely croak a note. It was appalling, pathetic, and very unprofessional that they even fronted her up on stage, when she was clearly not capable of delivering. Buckingham was demented, and I don’t know what Fleetwood had been imbibing, but he was definitely very strange. Christine McVee and her ex-husband had to carry the show. The most disappointing live performance I have ever been to. The fans were robbed. It’s nothing short of amazing that she recovered something of her voice, although the quality of it was never the same again, and that she’s still going.

      Buckingham has now been sacked from the band; not before time.

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  16. While Sweden and much of Scandinavia has had the driest, hottest summer of the last century ( and in some places since the start of temperature records), Iceland’s summer has been miserable in the other ditection. “The worst summer since 1914” (and remember a normal icelandic summer is wetter than in England).

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  17. That paragon of well-researched claims and mental stability, Alex Jones, has been kicked off Facebook. A huge setback for calm, intellectual debate.

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  18. Everything you never wanted to know about Shandong food. It’s not sexy – leave out the ubiquitous garlic, spring onions and rice vinegar with everything and it is very bland. My mother in law was from Weihai, on the northern coast of the Shandong peninsular that pokes out into the Yellow Sea between China and Korea, so seafood featured a lot in her home cooking, including the dreaded sea slugs, which I ate to make her happy; it’s like eating sponge rubber. Jellyfish is like eating crunchy rubber. Lamb and mutton – no, never. Her steamed corn bread was excellent. Whenever we made a trip to Australia, she asked us to bring her back some bags of Australian cornflour, which she held in very high regard. People from the northern coastal region of Shandong regard those from the southwest of the province as “different people – not the same as us”. Oddly, even my daughter has inherited this discrimination – after trips to Shandong, she speaks deprecatingly about “those others” in the south; not the “same people” at all.
    https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/food-drink/article/2157843/chinese-regional-cuisine-shandong-food-defiantly-humble-and

    Liked by 1 person

  19. The difference between narcissists, psychopaths and sociopaths. This woman gives excellent succinct, clear explanations; she’s really good. Everyone needs to know about this stuff, because they are out there, for sure, and sooner or later you have to deal with people like this. Incidentally, I showed this clip to my daughter and she agreed that the Indian lady is really good, but she said that the interviewer is a psychopath, and the Indian lady picks up that he is. I just said that I find the interviewer irritating, but she said that’s why I find him irritating. I watched it again to try to see what she saw – yeah, could be.

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  20. Jordan Peterson on psychopathy. Think of him what you will (but I advise to judge him, if you want to do that, based on what he actually says, not what other people claim that he says – he is not the person that a lot of other people have tried to paint him as; I know that for a certainty). In any case, he’s a very experienced clinical psychologist, and very good on this stuff. He also comments on Trump in this clip, which tells you what Peterson is not, politically.

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