January Pieces Of My Mind #2

Rålambshov, Stockholm

  • I love how fast the staff of the National Archives go through boxes of tea bags in the break room.
  • The 1920s New York that H.P. Lovecraft detested was the same 1920s New York that Damon Runyon loved.
  • I’ve said in talks that Thor Heyerdahl was no Nazi: for one thing he was friends with the UN’s Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. Who, I now realise, was a Nazi party member and army officer. /-:
  • Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold.
  • I’m releasing a two-hour recording of random noise and FM radio dialling as a previously unknown rock opera by The Who, and calling it Apophenia.
  • Story germ. Heritage manager c. 1900 re-erects the fallen or leaning orthostats at a prehistoric cemetery. Makes the whole thing come back online and summons a local godling.
  • “Hypnosis, yoga. These mystics can be very convincing. They can even hypnotise themselves.” Horror Express, 1972
  • The Horror Express has more carriages when seen from the inside than when seen from the outside.
  • The real name of Vampira in Plan 9 From Outer Space was Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemi. She was a skilled linoleum floor layer and carpenter.
  • I had dinner at three Levantine restaurants this past weekend: Folkets kebab on Hornsgatan in Stockholm (their buffet), Samboosak in Jönköping and Al Shami in Skärholmen. All highly recommended.

December Pieces Of My Mind #2


The buds have survived days of sub-zero temperatures.

  • I’d love to work as a Finds Liaison Officer. But there are none in Sweden.
  • The expression “Why can’t you do X” for “Why don’t you do X” really throws a spanner into my speech parsing engine.
  • Four years since the Chinese lander Chang’e 3 and the Yutu rover landed on the Moon!
  • Wondered why my phone’s screen was suddenly all greasy. Realised that it was because I’d been using the phone for an unfamiliar purpose: talking on it. With Junior.
  • Inadvertent CapsLock just caused me to say “Gnarp” as an expletive.
  • Took out the food waste bag but forgot to bring in toilet paper from the shed. Used “Robertsfors” as an expletive.
  • “Oh, Twin Peaks is just an excuse for David Lynch to trip out completely” /Mrs. Rundkvist
  • Meritocracy means occasionally having to hire someone you really don’t like.
  • “Whole Lotta Love” opens with a lewd little snigger.
  • Fish species can spread through roe getting stuck to birds. Fishes fly from lake to lake!
  • Movie: The Last Jedi. Plot stacks way too many improbable crises and resolutions in way too narrow a time frame. Dialogue is ridiculous. Actors are good. Grade: Fail.
  • “Pakistan” means “Land of the Pure” in Urdu and Persian.
  • Wonder what Earth’s biochemistry and our technology would be like if tantalum was as abundant as copper is now and vice versa. Copper is about 35 times as abundant as tantalum.
  • Heard a talk on the Rohingya situation in Burma. Learned that many Burmese human rights campaigners believe what they learned in school, that those people really don’t belong in Burma.
  • Hang on in there, everybody. Friday night will be shorter than Thursday night. There will be another spring!

December Pieces Of My Mind #1


Middle Byzantine tomb portal slab in Thessaloniki’s Museum of Byzantine Culture.

  • Cube sats are so tough that if their launch rocket blows up after lift-off and they fall to the ground, they usually still work.
  • Cancelled flight leads to unscheduled layover, which knocks me so far out of my habits that I take a bath instead of a shower. Must be almost 20 years since the last time.
  • Hotel rooms used to be so lonely. No more thanks to wifi and social media.
  • One of the Viking town Kaupang’s cemeteries is named Bikkjeholberget, “Bitch Hole Hill”.
  • I just found a Swedish example of the uncertainty of when to use “the” in English. Making the title of a much-read book by an archaeology professor read like something said by a Russian movie villain. Sorry, I mean, “Making title of mach-read book by archaeology prafessor read like something said by Rrraaassian movie villain.” In Saviet Rrrassia, you do not use word “the”. Word uses you!
  • Even when they look amazing inside, Byzantine churches look awful from outside. Naked crumbling brickwork, usually sitting in a pit.
  • Remember when a PC used to crash if you disconnected the keyboard?
  • LibreOffice’s word processor has a tool button to set the colour of text. Its default colour isn’t black. It’s dried blood, caput mortuum.
  • The question shouldn’t be “Is AI consciousness possible”, but “Are humans actually conscious or is it just what our brains think?”.
  • Reading Taylor’s scifi novel We Are Legion and enjoying it immensely. But then there’s this Paleolithic culture on another planet. And the first person described is a woman who’s busy butchering an animal. That a male brought her, explains Taylor. Using a flint knife made by her son. And suddenly this future Stone Age looks quite Victorian.
  • Another nibble! This one asked “Oh BTW, have you got a driver’s licence”?
  • The Sites & Monuments Register inadvertently documents the decline of grazing in Södermanland province. Loads of ancient cemeteries are described in detail during the 60s, and then in the 80s the re-surveyors just comment “Overgrown, couldn’t see shit”.
  • I have annoying Scanian ancestors. They use super few given names, so every time I think I’ve managed to link my genealogical tree up with somebody else’s it turns out to be different people with the same names. /-:
  • A month working at this archive has led me to the realisation that I don’t own enough cardigans.
  • When they cleared the ruin of Ärja parish’s Medieval church, they dumped the rubble on a Late Bronze Age cemetery nearby. :-0
  • Reached the point where my kid does the baking for the school bake sale without me having to do anything, even find a recipe.
  • The passing of a fad: you currently get two fidget spinners for the price of one on the Helsinki-Stockholm ferry.
  • A new book tells the story of the British 80s magazine The Face, calling it a “style magazine”. I am relieved to finally understand why I found the mag completely pointless.
  • This is a weird one. An Early Iron Age cemetery with the usual big flat round stone pavements — but one of them is built around a wellspring!
  • There’s a 4 km corridor of international water between the Swedish islands of Öland and Gotland.
  • The combination of darkness, a crowd and loud techno music really makes for a hellish environment.

Thessaloniki’s waterfront. Not a monochrome shot.


November Pieces Of My Mind #3


Morning view from my room at the Swedish Institute’s writers’ retreat in Kavala, Greece.

  • Made a list of the people who have worked in the field with me on my Medieval castles project of the past 3½ years. 50 names! I am such a lucky guy.
  • The ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland is simply named for the part of India where many Gonds live: bits of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
  • Andy Weir’s excellent new novel Artemis has been sloppily copy-edited. Early in the book he describes the general qualities of his moon base in the present tense while telling the story that plays out there in the past tense. (“France has many good restaurants. I went to Paris in 1897.”) Then this distinction breaks down and almost everything is past tense. (“France had many good restaurants. I went to Paris in 1897.”)
  • Oh, how I love my morning cup of tea!
  • Ocarina means “little goose” in Italian. The Swedish word, lergök, means “clay cuckoo”.
  • There’s this tune that I kind of like except that I can’t get over the phrase “When you have someone that loves you”. Hey guys, there was a reason that musically gifted pop and rock musicians used to employ professional lyricists.
  • I just finished writing my 7th book.
  • Made up an elevator pitch for my forthcoming book. “Lifestyles at Östergötland’s Medieval strongholds. Slavery, skinned cats, boiled dogs and extramarital affairs!”

Kavala’s Old Town from the east. Note the aqueduct, right, and the snow-capped Mount Pangaion in the rear. “Mount All-Earth”!

November Pieces Of My Mind #2


Under Västerbron Bridge

  • Love the academic rock exactitude of the Hellacopters’ “I’m In The Band”.
  • Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper” famously has cowbell, but I just realised that it has lots of güiro too!
  • Listened to Depeche Mode’s “Shake The Disease” for the first time in decades. Impressed!
  • One of my Umeå students has got a short excavation job at the Östergötland County Museum thanks partly to digging with me in the region! This is an excellent person who really knows how to get things done.
  • I’m an archives person now, surrounded by historians all day long. I’ve ordered a pair of slippers.
  • When discouraged, let’s recall that the Internet is also a place where you can see pictures of delicious gumbo posted by double Hugo Award winners.
  • An angel dictated the Quran to a man. A man dictated the Mahabharata to a god. Some secretary.
  • Further optimisation at work: I now have slippers (actually black clogs with a solid-rubber base), a kickass Assam + Ceylon tea blend from the Sibyl’s tea & coffee shop, and a database extract with the coordinates of every known prehistoric cemetery or solitary barrow in Södermanland province.
  • Told one of the IT guys about the boardgame Istanbul. His dad is Turkish. Now he’s bought the game for his kids.
  • All this reading of the Sites & Monuments register makes me want to direct a big cemetery excavation.
  • “It’s one life and it’s this life and it’s beautiful” /First Aid Kit
  • The head waiter at Millesgården’s restaurant is gloriously, crushingly, relentlessly campy. At the moment he’s even sporting a thin whispy mustache. He’s so out and proud he’s a wandering work of art. I am completely in awe!
Gravfält mot ensamhögar 171109

In Värmland, solitary burial mounds (green) seem to represent 5th century settlement nuclei, from which settlement expands up to the 10th century, when the mound cemeteries (red) allow us to map it for the last time. Then quiet until the 14th century when the written sources allow us to map settlement again.

November Pieces Of My Mind #1


Västerbron Bridge and Högalid Church, view from the National Archives

  • Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” is so much better with fat bass amplification.
  • In the 80s we never realised that radioactive no-go zones like Chernobyl and Fukushima would become verdant teeming natural habitat thanks to the removal of human activity.
  • Seasonal mood dip, check. Going to Greece in three weeks.
  • Yesterday I ran out of research funding completely for the first time since I quit contract archaeology in 2002. Today I am unemployed at 75% of full time. Thanks to a good friend at the National Archives who has some archaeological stuff that needs doing, I will be employed at 125% of full time during November and December while I hunt for jobs.
  • Movie: Suspiria. Beautiful imagery, innovative score, poor pacing, ridiculous horror scenes. Grade: OK.
  • Junior is reading my first publication from when I was 17 and praising it.
  • The supervillain is smarter and more skilled than most. By analogy, the current US president is an infravillain.
  • Prehistoric archaeology is like reconstructing a stage play from a visit to the theatre’s props department.
  • The Quirks & Quarks podcast just encouraged me to imagine that I am a young fruit bat.
  • Suddenly remembered the grandparents of a good friend from my teens. They were a lovely old couple. I liked them.
  • The idea that young women would fake an interest in geek culture baffles me. Many geeks fake an interest in stuff that makes you look cool.
  • I don’t like throwing out food, so unless I can have a doggy bag I usually cram down everything I’m served. I am currently stuffed to the gills with something us Swedes call “Flying Jacob”. Anyone familiar with this dish will realise that I … am … woah … I … am … oh man … a little … queasy … now.
  • In ’90 I chose to buy The Cure’s Disintegration over Love & Rockets’ eponymous album. Probably a good call.
  • There are only two Google hits for the search term “trilobite gonads”.
  • Stopped by a supermarket on my way to work and bought some cheap lunches: 4 ramen, 12 eggs, 1 jar of kimchi. The catered lunches here at my new workplace are cheap and tasty, but they’re a bit too big for me and ramen is even cheaper. Not going back though to the lunch routine of my railway excavation years 1992-93, when I had ramen (no eggs, no kimchi) every second day and Småland cheese cake every other.
  • There’s a sax on Thin Lizzy’s “Dancing In The Moonlight”. Huh.
  • Office kitchen has 1 sauce pan, 8 lids. Suggests that the sauce pan is the larval stage of the lid. Metamorphosing quietly in the cupboards.
  • Before my computer wakes up out of sleep mode, the screen complains “No DP signal from your device”. This reassures me, because though I enjoy good communication with my device, it has certainly never signalled to me about DP. I really don’t know why the screen expects this.
  • Prepped a talk about developments in the Östergötland mead-halls field since I published a book about it in 2011. Intense feeling of enthusiasm and satisfaction.

Cubicle personalised


October Pieces Of My Mind #3


Lake Kolbottensjön

  • Each member of Jrette’s class has been given the task of writing a song. They’ve got ten weeks to do it. Jrette wrote hers in the first week, including guitar chords, and is now writing for the other artists.
  • Remember 80s photo comics? Does anybody do that anymore?
  • A Shannara TV series? But why? The first novel is remarkably bad.
  • Victoria’s Secret is running an ad with the tagline “Obsessed with very sexy”. Being completely oblivious to women’s underwear, I find this silly beyond belief.
  • Mulligatawny soup means Chubby Tony soup in Swedish.
  • The archaeology journal In Situ Archaeologica has gone Open Access.
  • “De-railed”, Sw. urspårat, is a common technical term in Swedish place-name studies. It’s when the users of a place name forget completely about its original meaning and component linguistic elements, and start pronouncing it in increasingly strange and misunderstood ways. An infamous example is Hönsgärde, “Chicken Enclosure”, a hamlet between Stockholm and Uppsala, which was originally named Hidkinskialf, “Hidkin’s Ledge”.
  • Junior’s old buddy used to be this androgynous elfin child. Met him again today and found him to be tall, square-jawed and broad of shoulder. Still super pretty though.
  • Reading Carl Fredric Broocman’s 1760 book on Östergötland. Super impressed, huge amounts of info there. It’s in full on Google Books.
  • My dad is still running around happily and ably re-doing people’s kitchens and bathrooms thanks to recent advances in stroke care. This post is a joint ad for his carpentry firm and Hjärnfonden, the Swedish Brain Foundation.
  • In 1747 James Lind famously performed the first medical experiment with a placebo control wing, demonstrating that lemon juice is a quick and effective cure for scurvy. This was however already widely known, just not studied in this important new rigorous manner. And also, Europeans had known since the Middle Ages that Scurvygrass, Cochlearia officinalis, has the same property. This insight goes back so far that we know of no older name for the plant in several North European languages.
  • I give some money to a hostel for the homeless in my home town around this time every year.
  • Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children has a pretty big cast of characters. I wish I were reading it on the Kindle so I could search the text.
  • The earliest mention of tarring and feathering as a punishment is from 12th century England. It’s in Scandinavian Medieval law codes too, Frostathingsloven and Bjärköarätten.
  • Saturday morning: woke at seven to solid darkness and rain. Spirit buoyed by tea and the news of Mueller’s first indictments.
  • Like almost all Swedes my age, I have large vaccination scars on my left thigh and left shoulder. Also, my upper front teeth are unnaturally even. My body is full of bioarchaeological evidence for social healthcare practises about AD 1980.
  • The “Alouette” song is nothing but a long string of graphic violent threats against larks.
  • Hey young folks. Just admit that your half-socks are ridiculously impractical, OK?
  • Movie: Bladerunner 2049. Super pretty, plot confused but not offensively stupid. Grade: OK.
  • How hard would it be for replicants to discover independently of Deckard that they are fertile? Duh.

Second bloom, October rose


October Pieces Of My Mind #2


Playing Tigris & Euphrates

  • Jrette complains about inept class mates in home economics class. I’m proud to have raised kids who know how to do stuff.
  • Realised that what I thought was a piece of tubular bone is actually a sherd from the bowl of a late-model clay pipe.
  • Hard to get these big sideburns symmetrical when neither the architecture of your face nor the growth of beard across it is symmetrical.
  • I enjoy finding accidental inclusions in my agricultural produce. They show that it’s from actual muddy fields, not from some lab. Just now I’m cooking lentil soup. Found two large grass seeds and half a ladybug carapace.
  • The Stockholm Tolkien Society must have been such an oddball organisation at first. It was founded in 1972, right when large parts of Sweden’s youth were focused on alternative music, sectarian Communist politics and smoking weed. And here’s this explicitly apolitical association, whose bylaws are an erudite pastiche of Medieval law codes, and I’ve seen minutes from an early board meeting where they’re discussing whether to throw out a certain Isildur for smoking weed outside the premises of a society event!
  • So happy these days for my good communication with my teenage kids.
  • Because of uranium in the bedrock, we have to ventilate the crawl space under our house, or we get a bit too much radon gas indoors. The fan recently stopped working. I wrote to customer service and asked how I could get it repaired. “It’s probably just the capacitor” was their reply. So I got the component out and sent pics of it to Junior, who went online and found a new one for me at Digi-Key. They UPS:ed it, I put in the capacitor, and now the fan is spinning merrily again!
  • Mike Oldfield tautology: “4 am in the morning / Carried away by a moonlight shadow”. So not pm in the morning?
  • North Korea is struggling to attain a 60-year-old technology level.
  • There are Medieval German bishops buried in silk fabrics with Muslim devotional writing. Never mind those Vikings.
  • My ex’s dog first sits next to my easy chair growling and snorting quietly to request permission to jump onto my lap. When I finally pat my thigh she hops up and starts discreetly demanding cuddles by looking accusingly at me, poking my hand with her paw and whimpering tersely. A refined and well-bred but highly demanding guest.
  • Danish Jeg kan lide den means “I like it”. In Swedish, the phrase means roughly “I am able to endure the pain of it”.
  • The engine on my mom’s little boat has a discreet sticker on one side. It says “If you lay the engine down on this side, bad things happen with the oil inside”. If you lay the engine down on that side you can’t see the sticker so bad things happen.
  • Pharaoh Nephren-ka’s name was struck from records and monuments because of his dealings with the Great Old Ones. 45 is pretty much down there with Nephren-ka.
  • My Palestinian buddy helped me get the boat onto shore in preparation for the winter. I told him life jacket is flytväst in Swedish. “Thanks. This one’s way smaller though than what I wore when I crossed over to Greece.”
  • The #metoo tag is excellent because it shows the magnitude of the problem. And what really strikes me is the enormous prevalence of men’s sexual hostility against women. Most of the stories women tell about unwanted sexual advances aren’t about clumsy guys trying unsuccessfully to get friendly with them. They’re about men being openly offensive, threatening or even violent in ways that neither they nor anyone else could interpret as attempts to establish any kind of mutual understanding, however brief. They’re not doing this because they think it’ll get them laid. Many men don’t seem to view women as real people, but more like trees or mushrooms with breasts. But beyond this general obliviousness and lack of empathy, there seems to be so much outright hatred.
  • I had no idea that Mikkey Dee’s dad is Greek. Cool.
  • Tired of orange marmalade? I went to my Turkish grocer and bought sour-cherry marmalade and plum jam.
  • I remembered that the plural of pleasure craft is also pleasure craft. *proud*

October Pieces Of My Mind #1


New stretch of tram line lets me ride from Sickla all the way to Solna shopping centre without changes.

  • Medieval account books were so common in Germany and considered to be so worthless, that into the early 19th century they were used as fuel to heat certain archives.
  • Got nominated to the municipal council. Not likely to be high on the list, but still, feels good to be considered useful.
  • I was shocked to learn that people who get elected onto the municipal council sometimes just flake out and never show up again after the first few meetings. Somebody pointed out that many people don’t live my kind of predictable, regimented life. But accepting and then flaking out from public office suggests to me that the person doesn’t even realise beforehand that they are not super dependable. Or that they don’t consider public office to be a big deal. Or that a reputation for dependability is unimportant to them. I’d be too ashamed to show my face in public for years if I did that. Which of course says something about the standard to which I hold others as well.
  • Wonder if Gygax & Arneson intended the similarity between a multi-level dungeon and Dante’s circles of Hell.
  • Fleetwood Mac were named for the members of the band’s rhythm section.
  • Ekonomistyrningsverket, the Swedish National Financial Management Authority, has operated for 19 years. I learned about it yesterday.
  • The CD of Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever has a short spoken interlude in the middle in fairness to vinyl listeners who must flip their LP.
  • A magnet tells the Kindle to turn its screen on when the flap opens. I like this feature!
  • I wonder if Lowrance the GPS makers have an office in Saudi. Lowrance of Arabia.
  • The first I heard about the Japanese American internment camps during WW2 was when I watched The Karate Kid.
  • Intricate planning of middle-age napping and caffeine intake in order to be maximally alert when I drive home tonight from a speaking gig in rural Östergötland. The sequence will have to be: first go without caffeine so I get sleepy after lunch, then nap, then caffeinate two or three times over the afternoon and evening.
  • I love apricot marmalade on toast!
  • Which Dire Straits song about Asian food do you guys like the best? For me it’s “Wok of Life”.
  • I fail to see the greatness of Goodfellas.
  • The scalp distancer came off my hair trimmer. I now have a unique hair style.
  • I just learned that the University of Lund has a radiocarbon lab. This is odd because it opened in 1965 and I have worked in Swedish archaeology since 1992. They don’t seem to have much of a marketing budget. But come to think of it, I believe I’ve seen analysis ID codes starting with “Lu-” in the literature now and then. Good to know what it means!
  • A sad thing about the enormous wealth of GPS tagged metal detector finds coming out of Scandinavian plough layers these days is that there is absolutely no funding for anyone to study them. They go straight into storage oblivion.

September Pieces Of My Mind #3

  • Ben Aaronovitch = Benjamin Aaronson wrote The Rivers of London. I wonder if it’s a pen name for my grandpa’s grandpa Aaron Benjaminson, who was a farmer in Tanum.
  • Two students are trying to play verbal chess while digging. The board is in their heads.
  • “Well, I’m not the world’s most physical guy / But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine / Oh my Lola” /Ray Davies
  • Sudden thought: Christianity is a 2000-year extension of a state of spiritual emergency that Jesus thought would last a year or two.
  • Sweden has recently reformed its coinage. Convenient for me and the students: when it was time to seed trenches B and C with fresh coins before backfilling, for once we had lots of recent issues.
  • Talked about books with a dinner party dominated by Swedish non-geek journalists. Almost no overlap of references. Someone read the country’s biggest newspaper’s recommended books list out. Nothing rang a bell with me. I pay no attention to Swedish-language publishing, particularly not as regards mainstream fiction.
  • I’m kind of surprised that nobody’s tried to buy my loyalty. People have demanded it on the flimsiest of grounds, but nobody’s willing to pay. The stupidest case was the asshole Norwegian professor who told me to shut up online because I was hurting the workplace environment at his department. The one he was keeping me from employment at.
  • Just taught 7 Wonders to nine Dutch and Spanish students. Phew!
  • Threw out some hooks, and lo & behold, I got a nibble right away!
  • Public transport apps really make your movements across town incredibly efficient. I could never have come up with these combos back in the days of paper time tables.
  • At the Museum of World Culture: benumbed and queasy from a context-less global kaleidoscope of dissociated fragments.
  • The charcoal from the hearth the students excavated earlier this week is alder, Alnus sp. This is good news because alders don’t live for very long, and so the risk of a high intrinsic age is low when we get a radiocarbon date. (The centre of an oak trunk is hundreds of radiocarbon years older than this year’s fresh growth.)
  • I just deleted the automatic reminder in my calendar that has had me checking the academic job ads every third Monday for 14 years. *bliss*
  • Fun idea for a Rechthaber with a lot of spare time. Apply for all academic jobs in some field and systematically & immediately publish all applications and evaluations online to invite public scrutiny. In Sweden the authorities can’t refuse to divulge any paperwork having to do with public-sector hiring.
  • My new buddy the Palestinian engineer from Homs tells me his brother is at university and doing super, super poorly. On purpose. To avoid graduating and getting conscripted into Assad’s army.
  • This is very weird. I no longer have any reason to improve my archaeological qualifications. If anything, I may one day have to re-train completely to become a licensed librarian or teacher. But I no longer have to publish or perish. It’s been one of my main drivers since I was 22.
  • I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in Norwegian’s time-table accuracy from Gothenburg to Stockholm in the past three weeks. First week the flight was 6 hours late. Second week, 3 hours. And yesterday only ½ hour!!!

It looks a little tyred (Garden Society of Gothenburg)