July Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Jrette wandering around watching TV on the iPad, overturning and breaking things in the kitchen. *sigh*
  • Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold.
  • Jrette stole my zombie novel — Carey’s 2014 Girl With All The Gifts — and proclaimed it to be the best book she’s read in ages. Now I am bookless.
  • Mistakenly read two global catastrophe novels in a row. Now everything around looks temporary.
  • Jrette is twelve today! I asked her if she doesn’t find the Vampire Diaries scary. “I would, only with a dad who’s a scientist, I’m not afraid of supernatural things.”
  • Pittentian in Perthshire is a fine place name. Means “Willie No 10” in Swedish.
  • No, Google Music’s randomiser, the fact that I like Queens of the Stone Age and a few tunes by Eagles of Death Metal does not mean that you should play me lots of songs by the various bands that Josh Homme sings in, and little else.
  • The vagueness of Medieval land ownership is infuriating. You could buy a farm, then years later for some reason receive a document from the former owner emphasising again that you did indeed buy the farm, and then his cousin would show up and demand that you hand the farm back because it used to belong to his granddad. Or the Crown. Or a bishop’s see. It had to do with ancient ideas about land belonging to lineages, where one’s relatives could have right of first purchase, or where land could simply be inalienable.
  • Jrette wore my denim jacket to the movies!
  • Check out my guest entries in Swedish on the Östergötland County Museum’s blog about the Stensö and Landsjö digs.
New kitchen finally almost done after over two months of awkwardness!
New kitchen finally almost done after over two months of awkwardness!

June Pieces Of My Mind #1

Despite the chaos of our kitchen renovation, I have managed to build myself a little reading nest.
Despite the chaos of our kitchen renovation, I have managed to build myself a little reading nest.
  • Gotta love German. Try saying it out loud: “Die Beobachtung ferner Quasare, das holografische Prinzip und der Quantenschaum der Raumzeit”.
  • Resolutely put away my phone in order to read a book instead. Then remembered that the book is in the phone.
  • Ever wonder what the scarf-wearing Somali girls are going to do with their lives? Judging from two of Jr’s classmates in junior high, they’re going to be software engineers.
  • The question of archaeology’s practical usefulness should be treated as an empirical issue, open to unprejudiced investigation. Nobody will believe us if we just claim that what we do is self-evidently useful. I believe that almost all archaeology is useless from the practical perspective, but fun. In the unlikely event of any practical benefit, it must be solidly documented before we make claims.
  • Headphones with meaty bass. One of the best investments in sheer enjoyment I’ve made in ages.
  • I have no gravitas. Students keep asking me how old I am. Oh well, an archaeologist is never older than the last grave she excavated.
  • In about 1280, French sculptors worked on both the Cathedral and the main synagogue of Cologne.
  • My wife’s the hardest-working woman in the sunflower seed shelling business.
  • Strange to read this R.E. Howard bio by Mark Finn. He has considerable stylistic ambition, but shaky ability, and very emphatically no copy editor. I rarely read books that feel this home-made.
  • I’m starting a Christian splinter group. I teach that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. And that he acts in the world. And that this means that it is neither possible nor useful to influence his actions through deeds or faith. He careth not for praise, prayer, ritual nor sin. He is busy running every aspect of the world in an optimal way.
  • Movie: Mad Max Fury Road. Post-apocalyptic grotesque road warrior story with extra everything. Grade: Pass with distinction.
  • Middle age: when you no longer keep track of your grownup points, but of your youth points.
  • I’m deeply hostile to any research strategy that aims to propagate a pre-formulated view of a matter rather than investigate whether that view has empirical support. Even in cases where I find the viewpoint politically sympathetic.
  • In the 11th and 12th centuries, French and English cemeteries were often inhabited, particularly by war refugees. You find lots of pottery and other household waste.
  • Robert E. Howard created Conan the Barbarian and wrote hundreds of stories. His neighbours thought he was crazy: while writing he would shout the dialogue.
  • June sun woke me at 05:15. These swings in day length are why Swedes have such a bipolar national character.
  • Jrette reads stuff she wrote four years ago in 1st grade and is embarrassed about her spelling. I’m like dude, my spelling hasn’t improved one bit in the past four years.
  • Jrette’s entire school sings to us. Only one of the teachers has a mike. She’s the only audible participant.
  • Wonder if L.S. de Camp ever tried LSD.
  • I’m rapidly becoming post-parental. I left for work before Jrette and her buddy had even woken up. Jrette called me to ask for some money zapped onto her visa card so she can buy a birthday present for another buddy. She’s buying the present and going to the party by public transport without any help from grownups. The girl is still eleven! I guess this is what you get when you aim to raise capable and independent kids.
  • Gómez is a Gothic loan word and cognate with Lat. homo.
  • Falafel is fried pea soup.
  • Robert E. Howard lived all his life with his TB suffering mother and killed himself when it was clear that she had only hours left to live. This has often been interpreted as him being unable to live without her. In his REH bio, Mark Finn makes an interesting and well-supported argument that turns this on its head. REH had been suicidal for years, but lived on because he was his mother’s primary care giver. He had in fact waited to be released from his duties.
  • Jrette’s 30-week run as a Swedish kids’ TV celebrity has started. The show is called Superhemligt.
  • The tooth layout of my jawbone is completely asymmetrical. One half is regular, the other half all curved and squiggly. Good thing the soft stuff covers it up and evens things out, or I would never have been able to reproduce. People have a hard-wired attraction towards symmetrical partners.
Holy Humvee, our house has a new door! Window! Door!
Holy Humvee, our house has a new door! Window! Door!

Our Everyday Path


Three years ago when we moved into our house, the stones of our patio were newly laid and all level. Since then we have been walking across that surface, usually along the diagonal between the patio entrance + shed door and the front door of the house, sometimes around the corner to the compost container. Every step we’ve taken has caused a stone to settle infinitesimally into the substratum. Every step the kids have taken has on average made a slightly greater impact as they’ve grown. And when it rains, you can see that it all adds up. If I had a more volatile psychological constitution, this sight would probably be enough to trigger a full-blown mid-life crisis.

Fixing the Shed’s Door


Earlier this summer I did some upkeep on the board fence, pergola and yard gate of my house. Swapped some rotten boards and beams, put on some paint, whacked a few nails back in that had crept out. Easy work since I didn’t have to design anything: I just measured the original parts and copied them with fresh material. And today I cycled to the builder’s store and brought a few short boards home to fix the door of the garden shed. The lower four boards were rotten. Pleasing work, not least because I noted the need myself and did the job in my own good time.

What about you, Dear Reader? Done any carpentry lately?

Weight vs Density of Snow On Your Roof


Boat Hill, where I live since two years back, is a 70s tract-housing estate where roofs are almost flat. Snow thus tends to build up on them. Of course, pile enough snow onto any structure and it will collapse. But I’ve come across a curious notion here. Several neighbours have told me to beware wet snow “because it’s so heavy”.

They’re not talking about snow that becomes secondarily soaked by rain that adds to its weight. They believe that if I have a tonne of powdery snow at -10 Celsius on my roof, I’m OK, but if that tonne approaches 0 Celsius and compacts down into a thinner, less fluffy layer, it will break my roof.

As far as I understand, they’re confusing weight and density. A shovel of powdery snow is lighter than a shovel of slush. But when you shovel slush, you need to shift fewer shovels of the stuff to get your yard (or roof) free of snow.

Gardening Clearance Cairn


I once produced a small shell midden in my kitchen. Just now I made a small clearance cairn in the garden. My wife has ordered a peony bush from Gansu in China via a plant dealer in Turku, Finland, and I picked it up at a trucking firm the other day. Now it fell upon me to dig the hole and plant the thing. While digging I set aside all the stones I came upon, as lo-tech farmers have done for millennia, only at a smaller scale. And thus my little cairn.

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Ant Killer

Last summer I battled with wasps: this years it’s ants. Small black ones have underground nests in our yard, and they usually don’t bother us much. But a hot and dry summer recently inspired them to investigate our house, where they found two things they really like: sugar and water. When we returned from a trip to the archipelago, a busy ant highway stretched from the side door through a bedroom, a corridor, the dining room and into the kitchen, where the main destinations were our candy cupboard and the sink. Thousands of tiny insects.

I bought some insecticide. It looks like pale pink ice-cream sprinkles, and in fact consists mainly of sugar. But mixed into the sugar are two chemicals: one that makes the stuff taste awful to children and other large animals, and another that kills insects. It’s imidakloprid, a synthetic nicotine analog. I put a pinch of the stuff in each nest opening I could find out in the yard, and placed a small dish of it by the ants’ entry-point into our house.

It was frighteningly effective. After a couple of hours, that busy ant highway across our floor was gone. Our yard was also deserted. All that remained were a few dead ants. Apparently, most of them ran home when they started to feel sick. And none of them were of course smart enough to avoid the bait: they’d climb over the dead and dying to reach the stuff and gobble it up.

I love the smell of imidakloprid in the morning. It smells like… victory.

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The Remains of My Neighbour’s House

My house. It’s L-shaped; of its six walls, only these two lack windows.

In January, a house near ours caught fire in the middle of the night and was pretty much burned out. A malfunctioning electrical blanket on a couch in the living room was the cause. Nobody got hurt. But it was scary, because Boat Hill is all kedjehus, “chain houses”, separate nearly identical brick buildings with narrow roofed spaces between them, forming contiguous blocks. The house that burned was in the block next to ours, a stone’s throw away.

An identical house seen from the same perspective.

This morning they started to tear the ruin down, using a back-hoe with a huge clawed pincer. A lot of the furnishings were still inside. No attempt was made to separate materials. Me & Jrette saw a blackened dressing gown still hanging on its hook on the bathroom’s remaining wall. We saw the claw grab two wardrobes and crunch them up like an empty milk carton. Char-edged pages from a spy novel were strewn across the street. And I felt a little queasy, because as I said, the houses here are identical. That ruin is what my own house would look like if it caught fire and had to be demolished.

Here’s what the site of the burned house looked like on 8 July after the demolition and clean-up was done.

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Radioactive Basement

The bedrock under our neighbourhood contains small amounts of uranium. It’s an unstable chemical element that is subject to radioactive decay. The amounts are small and it wouldn’t be a problem but for the fact that one of the decay products is a gas at room temperature – a radioactive gas, radon. It seeps up through cracks in the rock and disperses into the atmosphere, unless it happens upon an enclosed space, such as a building, where it will accumulate. When radon decays it produces solid particles of radioactive polonium, bismuth and lead. These tend to cling to particles of dust and smoke in the air, and when you breathe these in, the heavy metals lodge in your lungs. There they decay, send out alpha radiation, and increase your risk of lung cancer. (The more smoke you breathe, the higher the radiation dose.)

The Swedish authorities recommend a highest level of radioactivity in indoors air of 200 Becquerels per cubic metre. My wife saw to it that during the winter we had two little particle collectors hanging from the ceiling for four months, with bits of sticky tape inside grabbing a sample of the ambient dust. When they were analysed, it turned out that the radioactivity in our winter air was 270 Bq/m3. This needs to be fixed.

The first thing to rule out was an unfortunate building material, blÃ¥betong, “blue concrete”, which is a type of aerated autoclaved concrete. It was made from limestone and a carbon-rich slate and used up until about 1980, when it was realised that the slate contained enough uranium that the concrete blocks exude considerable amounts of radon. There’s no blue concrete in our house.

Then we called in a radon consultant. He came over with a fast measuring instrument that can give you a radon reading in ten minutes and proceeded to take four measurements.

Outdoors: 20 Bq/m3
Bedroom: 140 Bq/m3
Living room: 210 Bq/m3
Crawl space: 1570 Bq/m3

In the summers we open doors and windows a lot more, which explains why much of our house is currently below the recommended max radioactivity level. But our crawl space is not a healthy place to be, at eight times the max value. The radon collects down there and seeps up into the house. Luckily the problem is easily fixed: we just need to put a small fan in one of the crawl space’s air vents to suck the radon out of the enclosed space and into the atmosphere, and fresh air in. The municipality pays.

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