August Pieces Of My Mind #1

medel
Spent 2½ happy days at the Visby Medieval Week.
  • Facebook suggests that I might like to be friends with this Japanese lady whose profile pic has her wearing a sombrero and a big fake moustache.
  • Today I received my first issue of Fornvännen in 20 years whose contents are unknown to me.
  • Degerfors means Grand Rapids.
  • The trick on Twitter isn’t to have many followers. You need to have a large proportion of followers who follow hardly anyone else and so will see all your tweets.
  • Like a bone knife handle or a pair of fine shoes, a mummy is an artefact made from a cadaver.
  • Facebook is kind of amazing. In a thread started by an old acquaintance, a member of Hedningarna is at this moment contributing free advice on caring for the various types of chipboard found in 1960s summer houses.
  • The solution to all animal ethics problems isn’t veganism. It’s farming and eating humans as well, to make our system of values consistent.
  • Movie: Ed Wood (1994). A heart-warming tale of a young, hugely ambitious film maker who overcomes impossible odds to make a series of ridiculously bad films. Grade: OK.
  • Cool confirmation that colour perception is context-dependent. You know, the “Is the dress blue?” issue. I saw something pale pink out of the corner of my eye. Looking straight at the object I realised that it was the purple bathroom rug being lit by the white light of a cloudy morning.
  • Imagine a toaster that produced the same result regardless of the starting temperatures of the machinery and the bread.
  • Robots and AI will increase unemployment. But this will lead to less demand for products and services: jobless people can’t buy stuff. So the system will reach a new equilibrium just before it is no longer profitable to buy a factory robot. There will be intense cost competition on the robot market though.
  • There used to be a famous line of German art guide books named Reclams Kunstführer. And suddenly I realise that Adolf Hitler probably wanted to become the Kunstführer back in his landscape painting days.
  • Early in Darrell Schweizer’s beautifully written novel The Mask of the Sorcerer, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser have a unnamed cameo. They commit some violent and callous acts and are then promptly snared and killed by a necromancer. An indication of Schweizer’s feelings about Sword & Sorcery?
  • Got a dark blue berry stain on my shirt. It did not come out with soap. Tried to bleach it with lemon juice, whereupon it turned a vivid pink.
  • As I stood in line for dinner, the plastic notification disc they’d given me wouldn’t stop its periodic angry buzzing. No matter how I stroked it consolingly and spoke softly to it.
  • Movie: Burning (2018). Young writer meets flaky girl and sinister playboy. Then nothing interesting happens for 2½ plotless nice-looking hours. Grade: Fail.

Author: Martin R

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

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

  1. It did occur to me that the Aztec practice of sacrificing large numbers of people and then distributing the body parts to people for their consumption, while keeping the defleshed skulls for display, was a triple means of controlling population size + meeting the community’s protein requirements + keeping the community cowed and compliant by a massive display of grisly trophies – either join in the rituals and go along with it all or disdain the rituals and risk becoming one of the sacrificial victims; c.f. the Nazis – join in and go along with it all, or be singled out for punishment.

    If that’s right, it supports the idea that the Aztec rituals came first and they only invented the bloodthirsty gods later as a convenient explanation for the need for large numbers of human sacrifices if terrible doom was to be averted.

    The protesters in HK have been using essentially the same tactic – anyone suspected of not being supportive or acting in any way against them gets attacked, and their families get harassed. That way, they have prevented large numbers of people, and even large companies, from speaking out against them for fear of reprisals, so they can claim that they have the support of the community. They also have politicians scared into speaking in support of their activities and defending their violence as “they have no other choice, because the government won’t do what they tell the government to do” – those politicians who have spoken out publicly against them have had their offices smashed, cars smashed up, etc.

    IOW they are no different from left or right wing extremists – take your pick.

    That is why the central government called on the people of HK to fight back. They don’t mean literally physically fight back – they’re not trying to instigate large brawls in the streets in some form of civil war. They mean people should have the courage to speak out against the protesters. That’s easy to say when your family and your personal property are not at risk. As it is, there have already been two large rallies held in support of the Police – people have the courage to speak openly of their support for the Police when there are a couple of hundred thousand of them gathered.

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  2. It’s not like individual people have not had the courage to front them, though – when they block roads, individual taxi drivers and other drivers have got out of their vehicles to try to reason with them, pointing out that they are ruining their livelihoods. The outcome? The drivers get beaten up by the mob and their vehicles get trashed.

    One guy driving a big crane truck had the right idea – he just drove his truck straight through the barricade they had erected, smashing it, and drove off, while the enraged protesters chased after his truck hurling bricks at it in a futile attempt to inflict some damage on it.
    Truck driver 1 Protesters 0

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  3. One modern pundit insists that early modern Europeans were morally superior to the Aztecs because they only tortured people to death after a trial. Back in 1973, L. Sprague de Camp had a cannibal explain that his people were horrified to discover a continent full of people who start wars deliberately intending to throw all the meat away.

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    1. Said pundit seems to be unacquainted with the Inquisition (“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) and witch hunts. Lots of people actually were tortured to death without trials. All of which was done in the name of the Christian God, just like the Aztecs did what they did in the name of their gods.

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  4. Color perception also can depend on cultural background. For example, if you want to drink black tea in China, ask for red tea. Also, Chinese does not have a word for the color orange, so native Chinese speakers will usually consider orange to be either red or yellow, depending on the person and the shade of orange.

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    1. That’s not right, Eric. Cantonese for the colour orange is chang sik (lit. orange colour), where chang is the name of the fruit. So, same as English – they use the same word for the fruit and the colour, but they add the qualifier sik to make clear they are talking about the colour, not the fruit.

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    2. Mandarin uses exactly the same word construction, so the colour orange is ‘chéngsè’ 橙色, where 色 means colour.

      It’s an example of where Mandarin and Cantonese are sufficiently close in word construction and pronunciation for them to be mutually intelligible, unless someone is really dumb.

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      1. “The reason for the epithet “mandarin” is not clear; it may relate to the yellow colour of some robes worn by mandarin dignitaries.” Except that mandarines are not yellow, they are orange, so I’m skeptical.

        In Bangkok, they don’t give you orange juice at breakfast, they give you mandarine juice, which is far more delicious and much less acidic.

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  5. Land’s Retinex theory of color vision requires only two primary colors and assumes that all colors are determined relative to the overall color pattern. There’s a lot of experimental evidence for this including structural evidence from the brain. There’s a matrix of cells, apparently copied from the motion detection matrix, that handles the color balance in the overall visual field. Color vision, unlike black and white vision has object color persistence, so it makes it easier to track things. In one of his books Sacks described a painter who lost his color vision and had to struggle with the inconsistencies of highly varying gray scale images.
    I loved that movie about Ed Wood. The story was that he wanted to direct in the worst way, and he did. The movie was charming. He found a woman after his own heart, and the scenes with the aging Bela Lugosi were touching. None of this would have been possible without the ridiculous US tax code that made making money losing movies profitable. (This is part of the plot of The Producers.)
    I’ve often wondered about producing a toaster that looks at the slice of bread in the visual or an infrared band and tries to determine how toasted it is. It’s a surprisingly hard problem. The surface temperature of the bread is a good guide, but it requires some kind of averaging scheme. This might be an application for machine learning since the problem is well constrained.

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  6. Today’s Cantonese lesson: one meaning of ‘fan’ is manure, dung or excreta. One meaning of ‘moon’ is gateway. So ‘fan moon’ means…? Anus. Obviously.

    One meaning of ‘fong’ means to release (in the sense of release from custody). One meaning of ‘pei’ or ‘bei’ is foul odour. So ‘fong pei’ means…? Fart. Also used as an exclamation meaning ‘nonsense’! i.e. what you said was just farting. But ‘pei’ spoken with a different tone means sweet smelling or fragrant, so you need to be careful – tell a young lady you are attracted to that she smells fragrant without getting the tone absolutely perfect results in you accusing her of just having farted – not the sort of conversation starter likely to lead to a successful relationship.

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  7. Black tea is referred to in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Bengali, Assamese and other Asian languages as red tea.

    This should give you the clue that colour perception of the tea is not a function of cultural background. The reason it is called red tea is because of the colour of the oxidised leaves when they have been processed properly.

    Also, what colour does this cup of black tea look like to you?

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  8. I’m being slightly disingenuous – a lot of Bengalis and Assamese have some East Asian admixture, and there have obviously been cultural contacts between them and E/SE Asian people going back a long way, so culture influencing language can’t be completely discounted. This is obviously salient for Assam, which is a big tea producer, and noting that black tea was first discovered (or I think that should be the processing of the leaves to produce black tea was first discovered) in China, and so the Chinese terminology would have been influential when that then spread to Assam and countries.

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  9. The colour that Chinese language does not have a name for is pink. Chinese clearly perceive pink the same as Europeans do, and have no difficulty in naming it correctly as pink in English, but in Chinese language it is usually referred to as ‘light red’ or ‘pale red’, which is really not an accurate descriptor of pink.

    But red is regarded as a propitious colour in Chinese culture, and that extends to pink as well – so pink is regarded as a kind of continuum with red in terms of it being ‘lucky’.

    I had absolutely no problem with my bride being clad in a bright red silk qipao, form fitting and split up the sides to her thighs (she wore a traditional European style white wedding dress for the ‘foreign devil style’ church service in the early morning, then changed into the red qipao for the ‘real wedding’, which went on almost endlessly for the rest of the day and half of the night).

    But I was utterly appalled on my wedding night, when we finally got to retire to bed in the early hours of the morning, to find that my mother-in-law had been in and the bed cover and pillow slips were all bright pink silk, elaborately embroidered with dragons and phoenixes. Phoenices. Whatever. Hey, Mum, real men don’t sleep on pink silk pillows! Worse, she had added additional embroidery to them herself, which she was very good at, and had sewn coins into them, in order to invoke a prosperous and productive union. So we fell into an exhausted (and in my case heavily inebbriated, because of all of the traditional toasting I had to do all bloody day long with black label whisky) sleep under the weight of a bed cover weighed down with bits of the local currency.

    My wedding day was an absolute trial, requiring a great deal of stamina. The bright side was that I played a lot of ma jong at my own wedding, and won quite a bit of money. Also, one of my wife’s uncles was a traffic cop – he drove us, and when we got stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the large restaurant where the ‘real’ wedding was to be held, he calmly got out of the car, stood in the middle of the intersection and directed the traffic until the jam was cleared, then got back into the car again – totally unflappable. Plus, members of the large extended family who attended the wedding in their hundreds had given us a lot of money as wedding gifts, and this police uncle had the foresight to carry his service revolver on him, suitably concealed, so he accompanied me as my armed guard when I went to the bank to deposit all of the cash.

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    1. Yes.

      Do you still have that photo of me and my wife on our wedding day that I emailed to you once? You can use that with the entry. If you can’t find it, I can dig it out and email it again, if you like.

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    2. Anticipating a response in the affirmative and to minimise your effort, photo sent. I have included a couple of others, just for fun. If you don’t want to use them, no problem.

      If you had told that little boy that when he grew up, he would marry that little girl, he would have been utterly astonished. He still is.

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  10. The colour that has me head scratching a bit is brown. In Cantonese, this is ‘fe sik’, which is a contraction of ‘ga fe sik’, which translates literally as ‘coffee coloured’, ‘ga fe’ obviously meaning ‘coffee’. This has to be a relatively recent Cantonese colloquialism. It’s not the same in Mandarin at all, which expresses the colour brown as ‘zōngsè’ 棕色 – nothing to do with the colour of milk coffee at all. For all I know, that usage might be restricted to Hong Kong Cantonese, which now differs from Guangdong Cantonese quite a bit.

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  11. “In a thread started by an old acquaintance, a member of Hedningarna is at this moment contributing free advice on caring for the various types of chipboard found in 1960s summer houses.”

    I have a couple of their CDs, bought about 20 years ago in Scania. IIRC with two female Finnish singers.

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  12. “… two large rallies held in support of the Police”
    And now there is a Change.org petition doing the rounds, criticising the HK Police for excessive use of violence against “peaceful pro-democracy protesters” and asking for UN action, among other things. They have 148,000 signatures and climbing.
    I have a lot of time for Change.org and often sign their petitions – but not this time. It’s hard enough finding the truth in local reporting. Getting an accurate handle on what’s really happening in HK seems way beyond the capabilities of our media, and anybody can start a petition – baddies as well as goodies.

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  13. HK Police have never used force against peaceful protesters. People have the legal right to protest peacefully in HK, and the Police support that, as is their duty. Some student leaders supporting the protests and their families have received death threats, which they have reported to the Police and asked them to investigate – they would hardly do that if they had no faith in the Police to protect them.

    But fine, they can ask for all the UN action they like. The UN never does anything useful – it’s just a huge boondoggle for a bunch of useless do-nothing bureaucrats. The UN has already delivered a lecture on how the violence in HK should stop, but they forgot to mention how to stop it.

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