Open Thread For March

Extra likes for mentions of Nick Cave, the Bad Seeds and Kylie Minogue.

Author: Martin R

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

355 thoughts on “Open Thread For March”

  1. Comment 300!
    Here is something for John and others involved with aspects of city planning.
    The concrete tube servicing 30 000 inhabitants of northwestern Umeå is badly damaged by sulfuric acid (which presumably is formed by reactions in the biofilm on the inner surface). After only 45 years -half the projected life span- half the thickness is gone, and the city engineers are frantically working on some new design. Sewage management can require surprisingly expensive infrastructure.


    1. IANA chemical engineer, but unless there is something unusual about what’s connected to the sewer system in Umeå, I would expect that corrosion/erosion due to sulfuric acid is something that should have been foreseen.

      A cynic might say that if half of the thickness is gone in half of the projected life span, then the other half would be gone after the other half of the projected lifespan. But I know that’s not how most engineers think–they tend to build in safety factors, fully aware that deferred maintenance happens and they cannot assume that a pipe with a projected 90 year lifespan will be replaced after exactly 90 years. That’s certainly true with highway bridges, which are much more visible to the average voter than sewer pipes, at least until the latter fail completely.

      Sewer pipes needing replacement is also an issue in a lot of US cities. It’s even more expensive given the sort of suburban development common in this country: the dominant cost of installing and maintaining sewer pipe in most of the US scales with the linear distance the pipes have to cover (it also depends on population, but that cost rises much more slowly). I’m sure John can testify that Australia has similar issues, given that they have similar development patterns to the US.


  2. Sewage outfalls and similar structures should always be twinned, so that one pipe can remain in service while the other is maintained and repaired. It shows a remarkable lack of foresight that they aren’t. But projects are always time and budget constrained by f*cking politicians who have grossly unrealistic expectations and don’t understand what they are dealing with. One improvement though, is that there is a strong move by engineers away from just the capital cost of projects to the concept of ‘whole of life cost’ – if you look at things that way, you would do them very differently than if you are just looking at capital cost. The engineers just need to persuade politicians that they need to look at things this way, and politicians have a very short time horizon, as evidenced by persistent failure by all of them everywhere to adequately address climate change.

    Right from when I began studying civil engineering, I was bemused by this nebulous notion of a structure having a ‘design life’; no one could satisfactorily explain it to me – it was just “the way we do it” and something to be accepted unquestioningly. Too much of engineering has been like that. Accepting things unquestioningly is something I have never been very good at, and ‘design life’ is still not a concept that I am comfortable with, not least because there is no adequate explanation for what it means.

    But the closer I get to no longer being a practising engineer, the less enthusiasm I can muster to write a discussion about it, so I won’t.


  3. To celebrate our impending 40th wedding anniversary (these mixed marriages never last, you know), Wife and I are planning to have lunch in a restaurant that has been operating continuously in its current premises since the year 1601.

    (I’m hoping the building has a design life of more than 400 years, but I rather suspect that it wasn’t actually ‘designed’ at all in that sense.)

    Daughter will be joining us, of course.

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to guess where in the world this restaurant is. Bonus points for guessing the cuisine it serves.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No one knows the etymology of Macao. Same with Iroquois.

        Macao is not called that in Cantonese – it’s called O Moon, where moon = gateway.


      2. Menu is different – Portuguese.

        Comes highly recommended by good friends of ours. Wife is originally from Macau and knows all of the interesting old historical bits very well, so she’s an excellent guide, and she has shown us things in Macau we would never have found by ourselves. They moved to Macau to live when her husband’s employer relocated him there. He’s now retired, so they have moved back to HK because they missed their friends too much, but still go back to Macau a lot. It’s not difficult. Plus they are intrepid world travellers, so know a lot about different cuisines. I trust them implicitly, esp. the wife – she’s very reliable for this kind of thing.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Daughter has decreed a change in plan – it’s to be for dinner, not lunch, which would mean using flash, and I’m not doing that. I have bounced flash off the ceiling in big, bright, noisy Chinese restaurants in HK where no one gives a damn, but I’m not doing it there.


      4. Yeah, I’ll see what I can come up with. Daughter has already spent an hour (an hour!) poring over the menu to decide what she’s going to have, so I’ll get her comments on the food – she’s a much more informed food critic than I am, and more adventurous as well.


      5. Their Facebook page is pretty informative, e.g. the building they are in is not 400 years old, it’s only 100 years old. So they might be in the original 1601 location or area (entirely possible) but not the original building. There are some exterior photos which give a sense of what the area looks like, but they’re not brilliant. Couldn’t see any interior photos.

        I notice that one of the people who has ‘liked’ their Facebook page is our female friend – she likes to leave a trail. If she was a male dog she would be going around pissing on every lamp post in sight 😛

        Her own Facebook page is a bewildering array of travel photos and videos – she and her husband have definitely got around.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I have already decided what I am going to order – Garlic Prawns, Garlic Vegetables and Garlic Icecream. Took me 3 minutes to decide that – I just ran my finger down the menu and selected everything starting with the word Garlic.

        OK, they don’t actually have Garlic Icecream. They have something called Sawdust Icecream Pie. Not sure I like the sound of that – I have already ingested more than enough sawdust in my life.


  4. When the Romans copied the practice of crucifixion from other cultures, they thought they had hit on the most painful and humiliating means of public execution possible.

    They obviously hadn’t heard about the Iroquois (League, Confederacy, whatever). They made the Maya and Aztecs look positively humane.


  5. Holy fucking @£$! The biggest Swedish bank was complicit in shipping a million USD to Paul Manafort from a russian oligarch!
    The Swedish Air Force thinks in terms of total lifetime costs for their aircraft, but this is the result of experience. If you do not do proper maintenance of high-end military aiurcraft, they soon fall from the sky, and each crash costs as much as burning a hundred Rolls Royce cars.


  6. I can actually see my neighborhood’s sewer pipe from my kitchen window, at least at this time of year (it is hidden from view once the trees have leafed out). It comes above ground and passes over the small stream that runs behind my house. Of course there is only one, because this is New Hampshire and we try to do things as cheaply as we can.

    Of course John is right that there should be a second one somewhere. Having a single sewer line creates a single point of failure, which is normally something engineers like to avoid.


  7. Twinning the whole system would be over the top and unnecessary, but for an outfall or the main that feeds the treatment works that serves the whole city, it would have been a no brainer.

    I’m not picking just on Umeå, it also applies to the ‘town’ I live in (population 3/4 million vs Umeå’s 120,000+), and our system was built more recently.


  8. Flamenco length fingernails do not work well with a touch screen phone. Get sick of fumbling around making endless tpyos and use a stylus.

    After I quit and no longer need my phone for office emails, I might go retro and get an olde stylee folding push button job. I read that they’re coming back into fashion.


    1. I alway telephone with my left hand. No touch screen, though, on the Nokia 3310. I am right-handed. The computer mouse is on the left (but a right-handed mouse) so that I can write with the right. When typing on the touch screen on my iPad (I also have the nice foldable keyboard/smart cover), it is usually with the left hand.

      How can Dolly Parton play guitar? She has huge fingernails on both hands.


    2. She also plays the banjo, but does neither very well. She has a very awkward way of pressing down the strings, with her fingers at a very flat angle to the fingerboard. Can’t stand to look at her these days – plastic surgery gone mad. She could play a female Frankenstein’s monster, no problem.

      Female classical and Flamenco guitarists make the obvious sacrifice. Female Flamenco guitarists are very rare though, and I have yet to see one I regard as better than just sort of OK. That precocious Korean child Jennifer Kim can play a few Flamenco pieces generally pretty well, but she uses only a smugged rasqueado, instead of the accepted modern method of playing the four finger rasqueado, which is to hold the fingers behind the thumb and flick them sequentially out to give that nice separated, structured effect. That makes me suspect that she has just learned those pieces by herself, instead of having a real Flamenco teacher. Having said that, Paco Peña also plays a smugged four finger rasqueado, but he is a staunch traditionalist – you only need to see the way he holds the guitar to get that, although these days he attaches a device to the bottom of the guitar to help balance it on the leg.

      The Nokia 3310 is one of the phones I was thinking of when I mentioned old style phones coming back into fashion. Not a folding phone though, obviously.


  9. Mortal Engines (2018) – So steam punk on a massive scale that it’s overwhelming – I love steam punk, but this is way too much of a good thing at such a frenetic pace that you don’t get the chance to really savour all of that steam punkish goodness. Good cast and list of characters, many hopelessly underutilised, but narrative is pretty uninspired, and character development is poor – with such a good cast of characters, they could have done so much more with that, but the frantic pace of the narrative didn’t leave them the space to do it. Bombed at the box office, which I guess means there won’t be any sequels, which is a shame. The visuals, cast and characters deserved better. Plus they killed off one of the most intriguing ‘good’ characters, which was a mistake if they were thinking about a sequel. I could stand watching a lot more of her, but I guess I won’t be getting the chance.

    Probably still worth a look – it’s not boring, it’s just that it could have been so much better if they had got a better script writer, like …erm…me, for example. Good wholesome stuff for the kiddies.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. 333!
    Old friend at work has retired, and brought some “smörgåstårta” today, no idea how to translate it, but delicious.
    He and his wife chose to retire today together, he at 65 and she at 61, so they can travel and do other things.


  11. Daughter, smiling with amusement: “Why do you have a guitar in every room?” Me: “Ummm…” (Italian shrug.) (You know the one – shrugging with the shoulders, arms out and with the palms of the hands held upwards.)

    Later, Daughter: “Now you’ve moved them all into one room. Why?” Me: “I just left them in the other rooms overnight.” She accepted that explanation as if it made any sense, which it didn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. That figure was a precursor to this:
    Our mysterious cousins—the Denisovans—may have mated with modern humans as recently as 15,000 years ago.

    Thinking about it, people find the remains of an archaic human, and it is sufficiently different from other archaic human remains that they give it it’s own name, so: heidelbergensis, neanderthalensis, Denisovans. But each one is just a snapshot of a particular individual in time and space, where the time and space involved are both very large. And throughout the time period involved, and in different parts of the space, those archaic humans were continually evolving, and populations isolated from one another were diverging. So who is to say when heidelbergensis (assuming they deserve their own separate name) diverged and evolved into modern humans on one branch, and Neanderthals and Denisovans on another branch, and when those Neanderthals and Denisovans split from each other and diverged enough to deserve their own names? Plus, realize that they were extant for a very long time period before becoming extinct, and diverged a lot from one another in time *and in space*. Denisovans in particular must have covered a very large geographic range. So, now the theory is that there were at least Denisovans D0, D1 and D2.

    What would be wrong with just lumping them all together and considering that they were all just divergent branches, diverging either through time, or over space, or both? Except it’s not terribly informative and makes it hard to map the different lineages. But it seems to me that the reality is that the naming conventions are to at least some extent arbitrary. If some Denisovans were more different from one another than they were from Neanderthals, it begins to beg the question, though.


    1. Neanderthals and Heidelbergers were, as you say, originally distinguished by looking at their bones. But we still know very little about what Denisovan bones looked like. They were distinguished by their clearly different genome.


      1. Yes, but now it is genomes plural and some Denisovans were less diverged from Neanderthals genetically than they were from other Denisovans. Which is really not surprising given the time range and geographic expanse that they are thought to have extended over.

        Quoting Razib: “Unlike Western Eurasia, parts of Eastern Eurasia were better insulated from extreme climatic events. Neanderthals show strong evidence of repeated die-offs and population expansion so that in general Neanderthal relatedness is more a function of time than location (i.e. Neanderthals tended to go extinct in much of their range periodically, to be repopulated from refuges).

        In contrast, the Denisovan range likely went far into Southeast Asia. It is not surprising that this is a highly structured population, with deep lineages. This is exactly what we see in Africa for the same time period. Tropical Southeast Asia is not as extensive as Africa, but it was more expensive during the Pleistocene due to lower sea levels. Hominins with low population densities occupying a huge range of territory almost certainly had developed local lineages and traditions.”

        So questions of nomenclature are bound to arise from this, assuming it all holds up. Which I think it will – it had already been accepted that there were at least two distinctly different lineages of Denisovans – those that contributed ancestry to Papuans and Australians were different from those that occupied Denisova Cave in Siberia. And also accepted that Tibetans got admixture from two different lineages of Denisovans, not one. Now it looks like there were at least three.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Iconic photograph – Aboriginal footballer Liam ‘Flyin’ Ryan, very upset at being called a “monkey” by spectators, which was repeated by anonymous online trolls, being consoled by his protective white teammates.

    Scroll down – Tayla Harris made it clear that comments about her athleticism and the strength of her impressive hamstring muscles were fine with her, as she kicked a goal on the run from 40m out, but that she was not going to tolerate obscene and misogynist comments. She reported to police, who are investigating.


  14. A lot of people who decide to learn to play the guitar never progress beyond learning the notes on the fingerboard higher than the 5th fret. This is so common that it is almost the default condition. Hell, some people never progress beyond the first position, or maybe the third.

    This is pretty bizarre – no musician who plays another instrument (except maybe the ukelele, mandolin and similar instruments, if I will deign to consider the ukelele a musical instrument – the mandolin certainly is) fails to learn all of the notes playable on the instrument. That would be like a pianist only learning to play certain keys and just never using the other keys – it doesn’t happen. One of the first things that piano students need to learn is the whole keyboard. Doesn’t happen with violinists either, and they don’t even have frets or position marks to guide them.

    People should learn all of the notes on the fingerboard going all the way up to the 12th fret, and maybe even higher. Otherwise they will limit themselves and never progress beyond learning at a basic level.

    It’s hard, I know, because there are an awful lot of notes to remember, and it can get pretty weird and confusing when you are up playing on, say, the 7th-8th-9th frets on some strings, and you are playing some notes on the lower strings which are higher in pitch than some of the notes you are playing on the upper strings because you are playing those as open strings. But that’s part of the point – that you can do that.

    And they should also learn harmonics. There are lots of those, some easier to find and play than others, but there are really lots of them.

    One of the reasons that the guitar is not taken seriously as an instrument by many is that so many people who take up playing it don’t learn to play it seriously enough. Strum a few first position chords and that’s good enough. No, it isn’t, and it’s doing the guitar and serious guitarists no favours at all that so many people do that.


    1. Usually it’s the drummer who gets knocked for stupidity, but TBH, lots of guitar players are as bad or worse.

      A rock band can survive having a mediocre guitarist–it will be hard to make it big, but a group with no bigger ambitions than being a bar/club band can get by. A rock band with a mediocre drummer is going nowhere. The drummer has to keep the beat going, which is not as easy as it looks.


  15. Daughter is very far from being a glutton, but she is an exacting gourmet. She buys her loose leaf teas directly from a guy in India, who was horrified to discover that tea sold internationally passes through multiple middlemen and takes 6-18 months from being harvested to reaching consumers, by which time most of the freshness is long gone. So he established his own online business, whereby he buys his ‘single source’ teas directly from selected plantations in Assam and elsewhere (donating a % of profits to pay for the education of the plantation workers’ kids in the process) and then sells them directly to consumers, eliminating all of the middlemen and minimising the time from harvest to consumer. They come stamped with the date of harvest and the date of packaging.

    The teas arrive in the mail direct from India. When she opens one of the pleasingly retro round tins to make her breakfast cup, the smell is almost overwhelming. So that’s what tea really smells like. Who knew?

    Unashamed plug coming, because I think he deserves it:

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh for the love of…

    Safety reminder message emailed from the office to all staff: a member of staff was trying to move his desk, and it got tangled up with…wait for it…a live power cable. So what did he do, disconnect the power cable and untangle it? No, that would be far too difficult – he did the obvious thing and cut the live power cord with a pair of scissors! Sparks flew, the scissors ended up somewhat blackened, and it tripped a circuit breaker, blacking out the power supply to the whole floor including all of the computers, obviously. He’s lucky to be alive.

    Question: If someone working for an engineering company (repeat: an engineering company) is that incredibly stupid, should he be working there? Here’s the sting in the tail – the anonymous staff member was on a floor that houses all of the most senior staff, the Vice Presidents and whatever. I have no idea what all of those highly paid people do – they certainly don’t do any productive, revenue earning work, and judging from this piece of abject stupidity, maybe it’s a good thing that they don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That guy sounds like a potential Darwin Award winner–too bad he didn’t succeed this time.

      Scott Adams (the guy who draws the Dilbert comic strip) noticed that many companies have a tendency to push idiots into the position where they think said idiots can do the least damage: management. He wrote a nonfiction book on the subject back in the 1990s. As someone who has had little contact with the corporate world, I don’t know if this is still the case, but I can still observe a lot of idiots in management positions. Some of them are paid eight-figure salaries (in USD) to run their companies into the ground. I’m pretty sure I can run a company into the ground just as effectively for a lot less.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. CEO salaries are ridiculous, based on a completely unfounded belief that if the company goes well, then it’s thanks to the guy at the top. If I were a major stock holder, I would complain.


  17. I read a few pages from “Inglorious Empire”, about what Britain did to India. Cheap textiles from india competed with British textiles, so soldiers from the Brirish East India company smashed all the looms in Bengal, and sometimes the fingers of the weavers, to make sure the production would stop.
    You know, I want to see them try a Hard Brexit, just so they get humbled once and for all.


    1. East India Company is now Indian owned, so I don’t think it will affect them.

      Inglorious Empire was an egregious hit job, BTW.

      I’m still angry with modern Swedes because Sweden practised eugenics and supplied massive quantities of iron to keep the Nazi war machine going. No I’m not.


      1. OK, but I am just so royally pissed off by Farage. And by the facts that people still do not look through him. And the people who see him as a demigod apparently think Britain can still function like it did back when Napoleon tried and failed to impose a trade blockade.


  18. I recommend watching
    Frankie Boyles NWO 29 March 2019 at Youtube.
    It is the only funny thing about the Brexit mess.


  19. Word for the day: anatidaephobia – a pervasive, irrational fear that one is being watched by a duck.

    Other word for the day: petrichor – a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.

    Liked by 1 person

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