February Pieces Of My Mind #1



February morning. I’m glad there’s daylight already at seven thirty now.

  • For two or three years, two neighbours have made constant appearances outside our kitchen window. One is the ginger rabbit. The other is the girl on the swing set. She sits there swinging vigorously at all times of the day and evening, always wearing head phones. Just now I got up at 8 am on a Saturday and there she was already. I speculate that she may be from the assisted youth housing unit next to the playground (LSS). I have never seen her face.
  • Nope, turns out pu-er tea is still nasty barnyard shit.
  • Found two more distant ancestors in the nobility, way back in generations 9-10. These families, Ehrenmarck and von der Wettering, were actually introduced into Stockholm’s House of Nobility, but they pretty promptly failed to produce male heirs and died out.
  • The Manchu did not topple the Ming Dynasty by force. The Ming were toppled by their own rebellious peasants. Then a small well-organised group of Manchu who already styled themselves the Qing (Mini-) Dynasty were invited to get things back into order.
  • A blast from the past. I applied for a lectureship in Bergen in May 2014. They asked me to submit a fat stack of publications and interviewed me over Skype in January 2015. It was a friendly interview and I felt good about it, even though the job was eventually given to someone local. His general qualifications were pretty OK and his specific knowledge of West Norwegian archaeology was miles ahead of mine. Today that fat stack came back after ~4½ years. I haven’t applied for any more academic jobs in the past 1½ year.
  • Feeling smug because, though I am an atheist, I never invested in any of the Four Horsemen.
  • I’d like for more little girls to be named Sofonisba and receive training in advanced painting techniques.
  • I wonder what the Mesolithic archaeology on the seabed around Rockall Island is like. And what people at the time thought about this dramatic rock pillar.
  • It’s a little scary to think that Alfa Antikvariat, the used book store, is closing down. Because it’s way bigger than most municipal libraries. And the books are on average way older and more rare.

Ramel Spoofs Gothic Horror

Povel Ramel (1922-2007) was a huge presence in Swedish entertainment for half a century from his first hit song, “Johansson’s Boogie Woogie Waltz”, in 1944. Here’s a song of his from 1968, performed by the beloved comedienne Birgitta Andersson (born in 1933). As it spoofs Gothic horror, it will be interesting to see how my high school pupils react to it as part of our horror fiction course. Chances are they aren’t familiar with either Povel Ramel or Gothic horror.

The Ballad of One-Eyed Elin
[Original lyrics]

Da-di-dum in a raven-black night
Da-di-dum the sombre tower la da-di-dum
Hmm na poor Elin there
Upon her remaining eye doth swear
Da-di-dum her lover and brother

Da-di-dum proud Sir Oscar di-dum
Da-di-dum squarely in his breast
Blood oh hmm everywhere
Da-di-dum hem of her gown
Hmm na-na never to wake again

Da-di-dum little daughter Sophie
Golden chalice whoops oh no with hydrochloric acid
Na na rosy lips hmm da-di-dum as if in a trance
Raven-black night

Da-di-dum desecrating the tomb
Hmm na na white bones in a da-dum-di-dum
Da-di-da-di cranium whoopsie hey
Crawling little maggots doodie day
Hmm hmm resting in unhallowed ground

Da-di-da-di-dum… da-di humpback
Safe in his cell… da-di-dum
And eczema… And migraine

In the deepest of the vaults da-di-da
The chest na na di-da silver and gold
Guarded tralala by a slavering vampire
Raven-black night

Da-di-dum the great big axe la-di-da
Dum-di-dum oh my dismember his mother
Na-na legs and arms doobedy straight across the throat be-doo
Hmm lala a shiny black box

Suddenly pestilence spread de-da-di hmm in our little village
Leaden pustules da-di-dum…

January Pieces Of My Mind #3


dirty dirty dirty

  • In addition to being a seasoned journalist, my wife YuSie just got her psychologist’s licence! ❤
  • In the 80s, Delores Pander worked 4 days a week as Jean M. Auel’s secretary and 1 day as Ursula K. LeGuin’s.
  • Only now do I realise that Roger Stone is not Oliver Stone.
  • Strange to think that there are probably people walking around town whom I don’t know but with whom I will one day share grandchildren and great grandchildren.
  • I just got my sixth three-month job since I quit research in November 2017. My finances are way stronger, I get to do unfamiliar stuff all the time, and I am evidently quite employable. But I miss archaeology and I wonder why nobody offers me a steady job. (To clarify: I’m not getting fired after three months, I sign three-month contracts.)
  • Put together some reading for a lesson on ancient literature. Akhenaten’s sun hymn, Psalm 42, a piece from Hesiod’s Work & Days, Ovidius’s treatment of Pyramus & Thisbe from the Metamorphoses. Interesting to see how the cables & computers pupils do with the hexameter.
  • Shopping for crisps with the victim of an absurd martial arts accident.
  • Man, I really don’t like the current auto-tuned so-called RnB. It’s ugly shit. For a while I thought it was me growing old, but then I realised that I’ve pretty much hated every genre of commercial mainstream pop since I was 15. (Though I did have a guilty thing for Take That.)
  • A pupil passed me in the hall, whistling “Popcorn” tunelessly. It’s 50 years old this year. I wonder where they have heard it.
  • Movie: Den Skyldige / The Guilty. Semi-suspended police inspector is put on 911 phone answering duty. When a hostage situation lands in his lap, he can’t keep from trying to direct work on the ground. But does he really understand the situation? Grade: Good!
  • Movie: Låt den rätte komma in / Let The Right One In. One of the best vampire movies not just in Swedish, but in general. As well as a beautifully shot film about adolescent fears and friendship. Grade: excellent!
  • Scraggly-bearded Swedish IT student and hijabi nursing student going steady, holding hands as class watches a scary movie. Our future. ❤
  • There are two famous musicians named Avishai Cohen.

Opportunity Mars Rover, Please Phone Home


Oppy at Solander Point in August 2013

The Opportunity rover landed on Mars fifteen Earth calendar years ago today. It drove more than 45 km across the Red Planet’s cold desert landscape and worked fine until 10 June last year. A planetwide dust storm then covered the rover’s solar panels with dirt, cutting off its power supply, and it hasn’t been heard from since. Strong winds may one day remove that dust and allow Oppy to phone home again.

Either way, 14½ years of operation and the longest trek any off-planet vehicle has ever made are epochal achievements. Huge kudos to the Mars Exploration Rover team! And let’s not forget the Spirit rover that operated on Mars for a very respectable 6 Earth years, or the Curiosity rover that has so far been active for 6½ and is going strong, or the Mars 2020 rover whose launch is planned for July or August next year.

January Pieces Of My Mind #2


Monuments in conversation at Millesgården

  • How to identify a female Medieval scribe’s burial: lapis lazuli powder in her dental calculus. Excellent work!
  • Sudden realisation: Cardigan is an Anglicised version of Welsh Ceredigion.
  • After twelve days on the dole I’ve signed on to temp-teach high school Swedish for six weeks, full time, respectable salary, short commute. And after that I’ve got something else looking promising. Happy to be employable!
  • Sudden realisation: tomato ketchup is a type of English brown sauce, akin to HP sauce. It has nothing to do with Italian cooking.
  • If I ever come into the political media spotlight, it will be interesting to see how my opponents deal with 25 years of relentless, copious, dirty and absurd joking online.
  • I knew that Ursula LeGuin’s parents were renowned anthropologists and that she went to high school with P.K. Dick. I did not know that her best school buddy was John Steinbeck’s niece.
  • *sings* Don’t mess with my Desmond Tutu / Don’t mess with my Desmond Tutu
  • I program my home computer / Beam myself into the 90s
  • My new job at this high school is just across the highway from my first job during high school. I did IT support.
  • I spent the morning reading and writing horror fiction and poetry with a charming group of nursing students.
  • Jrette tries to do her homework on women’s suffrage, but the school’s porn filter keeps her from googling “number of female bosses”.
  • The Book of Dead Names: H.P.Lovecraft’s heart-warming and dramatic memoir of the early trans movement in 1920s Providence, RI.
  • Keep coming back to this. I have a really hard time understanding that the skills I spent a quarter century honing are worth so little on the market, while stuff I just sort of picked up along the way or did for fun or was born with is in high demand and really well paid.
  • There’s loads of accordion on the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”.
  • I’ve got to visit my old primary school this autumn on a windy day to check if leaves still dance in that corner next to the main entrance.
  • Why teenagers don’t wear caps, wear gloves or button up their jackets in winter: the pain of getting super cold is not as intense as the pain of possibly being considered not cool by other teenagers.
  • Found my first ancestor in the nobility, a woman in generation 12. That generation contains 4096 people or a bit less. My blood is not particularly blue.
  • Movie: Zoolander (2001). Spoof on the fashion industry with two extremely daft models and innumerable celebrity cameos, including an unfit future US president. Grade: OK.
  • The celebrity cameos in Zoolander made me a little queasy. Because they’re from 2001. And I kind of think of all those people from ~18 years ago as current celebrities.

Lidingö: walking from Dalénum to Millesgården


This is my most recent ready-made piece of installation art. It is titled “Academia”.


Sentenced To An Hour Of Beheading

beheadingRemembered a D&D story I heard in the 80s. One of the player characters had stupidly and overtly committed a serious crime – had he attacked the King during a formal audience? – and been sentenced to beheading. Letting this happen is never a fun way to end a character’s career, but I believe both the players and the Dungeon Master were quite young.

The day of the execution dawns, the prisoner is taken out to the chopping block in the town square, the executioner steps up with his sword… And the only way this DM knows to handle situations involving swords is the combat rules. Which don’t really offer any details on combatants lying trussed up and face down on the block. Also, the execution victim is quite a high-level character, while the executioner is a basic man-at-arms.

The executioner could barely hit the victim, and when he occasionally did, he took only a small proportion of the victim’s hit points. It took an hour in the game world and endless dice rolling in our world to behead him.

January Pieces Of My Mind #1


The National Museum in Stockholm has re-opened after a long period of renovations. Endless treasures! Here’s a detail of the background on a 16th century Madonna & Child.

  • Woah. Checking my calendar. I have nothing planned from mid-summer until retirement. Except monthly meetings with the municipal education board.
  • Havande is an old Swedish cognate of having. It means “pregnant”.
  • If you’re the kind of voter who falls for fascist strong & stupid men, what’s the next step if one disappoints you? Abandon strong & stupid men or transfer faith to a new one?
  • Snow dusting in yellow sunshine on the grey gneiss scarp at Stubbsund made it look like limestone. Foreign.
  • You should always consider carefully before building an unstable interdimensional transfer portal. Because as the poet reminds us, “See how the void gates that held back the Chaos foe / Shudder and shatter, an entropy overload”
  • Wonder if the resin caulking rings found as remains of bark boxes in Early Iron Age graves also contain lots of human DNA from a chewing process, as has recently been shown for Mesolithic pitch lumps with tooth marks.
  • Some people think NASA should not call anything Ultima Thule because the Nazis used that name. That’s like refusing to listen to the Beatles’ White Album because the Manson cult did. Ultima Thule was first mentioned by Pytheas in the 4th century BC.
  • Movie: Annihilation. Lovecraft’s “Colour Out Of Space” + Tarkovsky’s Stalker + Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Grade: OK.
  • Wife horrified & scandalised to learn of my perverted hedonistic pleasure: I put some peanut butter and salt in my hot chocolate.
  • Yay! The County Archaeologist in Linköping has agreed to publish my forthcoming book on the Medieval castles of Östergötland!
  • 2019 will be my last year of paying back my study loan. I currently owe SEK 9,600 = USD 1,070 = € 940.
  • Free Swedish lesson! Unlike German, Scandy languages hardly ever pronounce an S as SH. Neither skål nor smörgåsbord has a SH. Repeat after me please: SSSSSCORL. SSSSSMER-GORSE-BOOED. SSSSSS.
  • I once tried sailing my space ship in 80s Elite straight away from the star. After a long while the star simply flipped from being behind me on the scanner to being in front of me. The same star.
  • How to identify a female Medieval scribe’s burial: lapis lazuli powder in her dental calculus.

Bronze Age Cemeteries As Comic Books


Vertical photos of untidy cairn-like structures at the cemeteries of Påljungshage in Helgona and Rogsta in Tystberga.

Cemeteries of the period 1000-300 cal BC around Lake Mälaren display a bewildering variety of ugly, damaged, diffuse stone structures. They usually contain multiple small depositions of potsherds and burnt bones that often do not represent a whole person, and sometimes there’s even just part of an animal. Closed finds are frustratingly rare here, when archaeologists often look to cemeteries to find out about chronology and social roles.

I’ve been reading Anna Röst’s 2016 PhD thesis where she’s drilled down for hundreds of pages into the minutiae of two of these sites. She has a really interesting perspective on them.

Röst suggests that her sites were not governed by the idea of permanent burial that we see so often in eras before and after her study period — including our own. Instead, they were intended for long convoluted multistage ritual processes where people would mess around with the bones, metalwork, stone structures, pottery, fire and animals. The great variation among the structures that we excavate and document now is partly due to varying ideas about the correct script for such a chain of ritual events: two structures may look different today because they were never intended to look the same. But in other cases the variation may be due to a single ritual script being interrupted on different pages: two structures may look different today because they were abandoned at different points along the timeline of a single process.

This recalls Fleming Kaul’s interpretation of the imagery engraved on period bronze razors: he considers each razor to be a panel in the same comic book about sun-ship mythology. You can’t understand a whole comic from one panel. Nor can you understand what people where doing and intending at a Late Bronze Age cemetery in Södermanland by looking at a single structure.

But there’s a big difference between the burials and the razor iconography. We never find a razor with a half-drawn scene on it. If Röst is right, then almost every one of the structures we document today at her kind of cemetery is a half-drawn scene, intended for an audience who were interested in the act of drawing, not in reading the finished comic book.

Röst, Anna. 2016. Fragmenterade platser, ting och människor. Stenkonstruktioner och depositioner på två gravfältslokaler i Södermanland ca 1000-300 f Kr. Stockholm University. [Full text available online]

Most-Played Boardgames of 2018

hiveHere are the eleven boardgames that I played more than thrice during 2018. The year’s total was 74 different games.

  • Hive (2001)
  • No Thanks! (2004)
  • Gaia Project (2017)
  • Sechs nimmt / Category 5 (1994)
  • Azul (2017)
  • Plato 3000 (2012)
  • Tichu / Zheng fen (1991)
  • Innovation (2010)
  • Keltis (2008, travel version)
  • Patchwork (2014)
  • Heimlich & Co (1984)

As always, the games on the list are mostly short ones that you can play repeatedly in one evening. But my new acquisitions Gaia Project and Tichu are way longer, full-evening games. All eleven highly recommended!

Dear Reader, what was your biggest boardgaming hit of 2018?

Stats courtesy of Boardgame Geek. And here’s my list for 2017.