November Pieces Of My Mind #1

  • No, Kim Stanley Robinson, when two groups of characters meet and tell each other what they’ve gone through recently under the reader’s watchful eye, you shouldn’t write that dialogue. Because the reader already knows.
  • Back when my father-in-law the engineer had just come to Sweden from China and worked as a waiter, he used to have a few hours off in the afternoon. One day he decided to relax with a movie, despite understanding neither the English dialogue nor the Swedish subtitles. He was confused and horrified by what he happened to see: Alien.
  • Feeling flush after my intense September bout of teaching, I bought us an easy chair for 10110 kronor. Sadly the price was not expressed in binary.
  • I’m letting the freshmen suggest questions for the exam on the Iron Age module. Publicly, at a seminar.
  • I just bought my first mp3 album rather than forking out for a CD I would only play in the car at long intervals.
  • Tried to read Charles L.H. Coulson’s Castles in Medieval Society. It deals with interesting matters and seems to have interesting things to say, but Coulson’s prose style is so convoluted, ponderous and allusive that I just gave up. The book should have been copy-edited by Ernest Hemingway.
  • “Gastropub” is such an unappetising word. I associate it not with gastronomy, but with gastroscopy, gastric acid and gastritis.
  • It’s official: I’m middle-aged. They played a hit song from my early twenties on the radio, then the jingle “We play the music you remember”…
  • Swedish culture is contagious: when taking her dad to see an old Chinese lady, YuSie received a bag of home-made cinnamon buns.
  • The journalists’ union’s membership paper has long been filled with stories of layoffs and downsizing. I empathise fully with everybody who loses their jobs. But there’s this naïve recurring criticism, that employers are firing people because “they only think about the money”. Look, the main reason that you got that job 25 years ago was that at the time, you made money for the shareholders. That is no longer true because of free news on the net. Your employer has been thinking only about the money all the time.
  • Only one letter separates Sinead and Sinbad. Just sayin’.
  • Comfy chair corner has been reinstated! Die, Telenor!
  • Cleaned out my mixed computer hardware box to make room. Stuff out: weird graphics cable, 25-pin printer cables, mice with PS/2 plugs and no scroll wheels, 25-pin and 9-pin serial cables, firewire cable, ethernet expansion card for desktop PC, sundry low-capacity memory chip arrays, sundry USB cables with odd plugs at the other end, hermaphroditic phone plugs, VGA cable, USB-to-25-pin printer cable, joystick with the weird sound-card plug. Stuff in: wifi router, IP cables, TV antenna cable, coax TV cable.
  • No, Norwegian job application referee, I am not “somewhat theoretically unreflected”. I am greatly theoretically hostile. And dismissive.
  • Resisting the temptation to make the 1st Millenium freshman module entirely about the finer details of Vendel Period animal art styles.

Friday Mushrooms

zvampHas it really been almost four years since I blogged about mushrooms? This afternoon me and my wife repeated our September 8, 2010 expedition to the hills between Lakes Lundsjön and Trehörningen and picked almost a kilo of mushrooms in a bit more than an hour. We got:

  • King bolete, Stensopp/Karl Johan, Boletus edulis
  • Bay bolete, Brunsopp, Boletus badius
  • Orange birch bolete, Tegelsopp, Leccinum versepelle
  • Birch bolete, Björksopp, Leccinum scabrum
  • Entire russula, Mandelkremla, Russula integra
  • Two kinds of red or brown brittlegill, mild-tasting and thus non-poisonous. Scandyland has more than 130 species of brittlegill, none are deadly and luckily there’s a simple taste test for which ones are good to eat.

Viga-Glum’s Fits Of Murderous Laughter

Sweden doesn’t have much of a written record for the Viking Period. We have most of the rune stones but hardly any of the sagas. And thus among Swedish Viking scholars it is not uncommon to be rather poorly read, like I am, in the eddas, the sagas and the other written sources of the period. The Viking Period is pretty much prehistoric archaeology to us.

Still, even in Sweden you can’t study the period without picking up a few fragments of the written lore. And in my reading, one of the best passages I’ve come across is this description of Viga-Glum’s reaction to trespassing neighbours from the saga that bears his name. Glum is the son of Eyolf and Astrida and lives with his mother after the father’s death. He is introduced thus:

Glum took very little trouble about household matters, and seemed to be somewhat slow in coming to his full faculties. He was for the most part silent and undemonstrative, tall, of a dark complexion, with straight white hair; a powerful man, who seemed rather awkward and shy, and never went to the places where men met together.

The up-and-coming young chieftain Sigmund and his father Thorkel are grabbing bits of Glum’s family property.

One morning Astrida woke Glum up and told him that many of Sigmund’s cattle had got into their home field and wanted to break in among the hay which was laid in heaps.

“I am not strong enough to drive them out, and the men are all at work.”

He replied, “Well, you have not often asked me to work, and there shall be no offence in your doing so now.”

So he jumped up, took his horse, and a large stick in his hand, drove the cattle briskly off the farm, thrashing them well until they came to the homestead of Thorkel and Sigmund, and then he let them do whatever mischief they might please. Thorkel was looking after the hay and the fences that morning, and Sigmund was with the labourers.

The former called out to Glum, “You may be sure people will not stand this at your hands – that you should damage their beasts in this way, though you may have got some credit while you were abroad.”

Glum answered, “The beasts are not injured yet, but if they come again and trespass upon us some of them will be lamed, and you will have to make the best of it; it is all you will get; we are not going to suffer damage by your cattle any longer.”

Sigmund cried out, “You talk big, Glum, but in our eyes you are now just as great a simpleton as when you went away, and we shall not order our affairs according to your nonsense.”

Glum went home, and then a fit of laughter came upon him, and affected him in such a manner that he turned quite pale, and tears burst from his eyes, like large hailstones. He was often afterwards taken in this way when the appetite for killing someone came upon him.

(Ch. 7, last paragraph, Edmund Head’s 1866 translation with a few 21st century tweaks of mine.)

Thanks to Anne Monikander for helping me find the passage, which I had misattributed first to Gretti Asmundarson and then to Gisli Sursson.

Alboin and Cunimund in Hell

Back in 2012 we had a look at the first novel written in Swedish, 1666/68’s Stratonice by Urban Hiärne (1641-1724). He went on to become a high-ranking doctor, founded a hydrotherapeutic spa resort, was instrumental in putting an end to the Swedish witch hunts and fathered 26 children by his three wives. But before all this, at the suggestion of professor Olof Rudbeckius Sr., he also found time to write the first original play performed in Swedish: Rosimunda. This was student theatre, with a cast of young noblemen, put on to entertain the 11-y-o future king Carolus XI at Uppsala Castle on 15 August in 1665.

Hiärne took the material for his play from Paul the Deacon’s narrative about the 6th century hero king of the Lombards, Alboin. (I don’t know if Hiärne read Rucellai’s 1525 play in Italian on the same theme.) Alboin defeated the Gepids in AD 567, killed their last king Cunimund and forced the Gepid princess Rosamund to marry him. After Alboin served his wife wine out of her own father’s skull, she conspired with her husband’s foster-brother Helmichis and the Byzantines and had Alboin assassinated in 572.

The play consists mainly of long verse monologues, but in Act 4, Scene 4 we get some pretty funny dialogue. My favourite line is the smug yet resigned Det ähr förseent att gaalnas, “It’s too late now to get all worked up.” Cunimund is in the Land of the Dead and has just watched Rosamund and Helmichis kill Alboin. (And I translate:)

Cunimund’s ghost:

Yes! That was right! The inhuman dog
Has now received fair payment
For manslaughter, for the abominable wine cup
For enmity and blood-thirst
For mockery, for scorn, for the dismembered body
For cutting off my head.
I had to die thus, in order for you, Rosamund
Truly my child and my daughter
To prove definitively
That you take after your lord father.
I praise your laudable hands
And your nature that shows no degeneration.
But you, vile Alboin, have learned
To your great cost
What comes of angering my beloved daughter
Wronging her
And serving her such an awful drink
Which she would avenge.
Oh, did you not know, deluded one
And have you not learned
That the mighty heavenly avengers will not
Leave such vices unpunished?
Righteous revenge followed you
Though it travelled slowly.
But do not think that I am satisfied
By what happened to you just now.
There are no pains hellish enough
For what you truly deserve.
Yes, the thirst and unbearable hunger of Tantalus
Even such punishment would be too good for you.
But beware, you appalling blood-hound:
What you have suffered so far
Is but the vengeance and duty of my passionate daughter.
There is more to come:
To a grimmer court and harsher judgement
Will I soon sue you.

Alboin’s ghost enters at full sprint, delirious.

But look, there he comes, poor wretch.
That fellow is not in his right mind
Fear-struck, as if mad and demented
He shakes, gargles, makes threats.
What a troll! Oh dear, look at him
Like horned Hecate!
He reveals his uncontrolled mind
With a hundred crazy antics
Stares at the sky and the ground with awful eyes
Bitter, dizzy and burning.

A: Oh gods in heaven! And you, Rosamund!

C: He has evil intentions.

A: Oh you Rosamund, you Rosamund!

C: What’s wrong with you, madman?

A: You’ll get what you deserve, and soon!

C: It’s too late now to get all worked up.

Alboin runs up to Cunimund and slaps him in the face.

A: Who are you, weird-looking goat beard?
Oh it’s you, who have fathered
Such a vile and dreadful daughter!

C: A righteous daughter.

A: Yes, she, who has done this to her husband – – –
Oh, I can’t stand talking about it!

Alboin begins to rave again.

I want to come after you now, right away, right away!
Just look at that bent old heartless man!
You should watch out for me.
Who will give me his torch, so I can
Hit the old cod across the neck?
Where is the sword flecked with my blood?
I hate this disgraceful delay
In having myself avenged.
Oh, you ungrateful dog, Helmichis!
Oh, how dear you were to me, Rosamund
And how did you repay me?

A great blue flame rises, as if Phlegeton wishes to reclaim the ghosts.

Let’s see — where am I? What am I doing here?
Oh, wait just a little, Pluto! I’ll be with you shortly.
My path leads downward after all.
I will be there in good time.
But first let me get my hands on them.
Guardsmen! Run, run, run, good men!
Be swift and kill them both!
But spare my Alswinda, my lovely daughter in waiting.
Hurry, hurry, seize them, hang them, burn them!

Alboin exits, running.


Who knows where he runs in his madness?
I know the company he keeps.
He is plotting against my Rosamund
But I shall travel away with him
To the pit of Styx, where the two of us
Shall settle our differences decisively.

The earth splits and the ghost of Cunimund swiftly climbs inside; then the crack closes.

April Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • The Christian Democrats dropping under the 4% cutoff for Parliament is a thing devoutly to be wished for in itself. But also, I just realised, if they do, then their votes will evaporate, losing the Right coalition a considerable part of their current majority.
  • I feel really bad for people who don’t know what CTRL-Z and ALT-Backspace does.
  • Elsevier’s manuscript submission site is old, creaky and slooow.
  • TV chef reminds me that I like forehead, not fringe.
  • Solsbury Hill that Peter Gabriel sang about has a big hillfort on top. This is pretty badass: a local amateur archaeology association has geophysed the whole thing without any particular funding and produced a complete map of the settlement inside the banks. Would have been impossible very recently.
  • I can kind of understand “My religion is better than yours”, but how any Christian can argue that one brand of it is more pleasing to God than the others is incomprehensible.
  • Nils Månsson Mandelgren’s 1866 Samlingar till svenska konst- och odlings-historien scanned and on-line.
  • Why was everybody so worked up about Belle & Sebastian?
  • Was Rikki-tikki-tavi a Corieltauvi tribesman?
  • Logged an unusual geocache today. The log book is in a watertight container inside a tall metal cylinder fastened to a tree. The cylinder has two small holes at the bottom and is open at the top. In order to get at the log book, you have to stop the holes at the bottom with your hand while someone (ideally not yourself) fills the cylinder with water from the nearby lake. Then the log book’s container floats to the top where you can get at it. This is not easy to do alone. Luckily other cachers had left three bottles at the site, so I could get enough water to the cache without removing my hand from the lower end of the cylinder.
  • Some folks call me the spayed cowboy.
  • It would be fun to apply for a bunch of jobs in the public sector and then file a complaint in cases where you got them.
  • If you’ve had a job that by rights demands a PhD, despite not having one, wouldn’t it be fair if you got fired when you finally presented your thesis?
  • Nick Cave’s (yes him) 1989 novel And The Ass Saw The Angel about insane cannibal hillbillies is not for the faint of heart. I just heard a marvellous reading of a Jay Lake story in that exact vein on the Drabblecast.
  • Started reading The Name of the Wind, a much-lauded 2007 Medieval fantasy novel by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s well written and pleasant reading. But its basic nature as a collage of fragments of the real-world past shows immediately. People go “Sweet Mother of God!” despite the fact that there’s no Catholicism. The spider-like magic killer robots are called “skraelings”, which is the Old Norse term for Native American. I know that my job makes me a hopeless fantasy audience. But really, isn’t skraeling common knowledge?
  • Rothfuss compares something to “a man tending a large, complex machine”. In a Medieval world where to my knowledge there are no machines.
  • *groan* The Rothfuss novel has turned from Oliver Twist into Harry Potter. Dude, I don’t care how amazingly brilliant you are, nor who you’re friends and enemies with at school. No, not even your Snape ripoff teacher.
  • Hobbit Lego. *nerd anguish*
  • Pre-Roman Iron Age settlement sites in northern Jutland sometimes yield pots the size of bathtubs, way beyond the era’s usual pottery tech. In Skalk 2014:2 Jens N. Nielsen points out that they are all from burnt-down houses. Probably they are actually indoor grain storage silos made from unfired clay that have accidentally become fired when the houses burned down.
  • Did an on-line political test to guide my vote in the upcoming parliamentary election. I wasn’t surprised by what parties the test recommended me to choose / avoid. I was surprised by the middle three parties, all of which would represent my opinions almost identically middlingly well on the issues included in the test. The Conservatives, Labour and the Christian Democrats. I’m not sure if this says more about them or about me.
  • I wonder who the troubadours were sleeping with while writing courtly love poetry about other men’s unattainable wives. Their longing seems less poignant when you consider that as noblemen they had unlimited access to the castle staff.
  • I must start using “Tönerne Aquamanilien” as an expletive.
  • *sigh* Presentation files created in the latest version of LibreOffice for Windows can’t be opened in the latest version of LibreOffice for Linux. You get what you pay for, I guess.
  • Some of the older participants in the Apollo program had siblings born in the 19th century.

Album Review: Astrophobos, Remnants of Forgotten Horrors

Pär Svensson of Kurtz, himself a rock guitarist with unbelievably eclectic musical tastes, pops in with a guest entry.

Hello Cleveland!

Martin asked me to review the debut album of his brother’s death metal outfit (as he put it), citing general unfamiliarity with the genre as a reason. Arguably he’s also lacking somewhat in the objectivity department. Or, he hated the record and wanted someone else to bring the hatchet down. Maybe I’m a pawn being pushed in some family power struggle or blood feud. Give this job to Clemenza.

But I digress. At hand is Remnants of Forgotten Horrors by Stockholm black metal combo Astrophobos, who, consequently, do not play death metal. Whereas death metal is characterised mainly by low-pitched growls, bulldozers, blood, death, and war, black metal tends to be more of high-pitched screams, power drills, jackhammers, satanism, and, well, war. Mythology is another theme common to both genres, and Astrophobos draw heavily on H.P. Lovecraft’s literary universe, from their very band name, through the album title, right down to the lyrics. Browsing the booklet, I expected a good serving of madness, darkness, and lurking horrors, and was not disappointed.

Music-wise, we are dealing with mid- to fast-paced black metal, well-produced and technically proficient, still with a commendable lack of extraneous showings-off. Well-conceived arrangements lend a feeling of natural progression to the songs, as do the tempo changes, which keep the listener’s interest up. Catchy melodic riffing balances the harsh vocals, and gives the songs that hum-along quality you get with any good pop song, regardless of its distortion levels. While this definitely makes the music more accessible, it doesn’t really fall in line with the lyrical themes. Compared to fellow Lovecraftian band Portal, whose static death metal evokes claustrophobia, psychosis and horror, Astrophobos’s upbeat compositions appear more like a celebration of the vast majesty of the universe than an exposé of the unspeakable evil dormant in its deepest recesses. Given this, and accepting that the style is par for the course in black metal, I believe the songs would benefit from a more varied vocal approach, as the one-dimensional delivery rather restrains them.

Bottom line: competent straight-forward black metal, well-crafted songs with melodic qualities. Accessible enough to be recommended to genre neophytes, but harsh vocals will still put a lot of people off.

Highlights: The Dissection-esque “Soul Disruptor“, the Marduk-esque “Of Primal Mystery”, and the Astrophobos-esque “Celestial Calamity”.

Over and out.

Pre-order the CD here.

Most-played Boardgames of 2013

keltisHere are the ten boardgames I played more than twice during 2013.

These are mostly short games that you can play repeatedly in one evening. Only Galaxy Trucker, Tikal and maybe Kingdom Builder are longer. All are highly recommended! Except Fluxx, which is just weird. I played it under duress at the Blåhammaren mountain hiker’s resort.

I played 74 different boardgames in 2013, same number as last year. Looking back since mid-2008, the number is 197, and so 26 were new to me this year. Dear Reader, what was your biggest boardgaming hit in 2013?

Stats courtesy of Boardgame Geek. And here’s my list for 2012. Asterisks above mark 2013 arrivals on the top list.

Eight Years Of Blogging

I’ve been blogging for a bit more than eight years now, and today Aard turns seven. Traffic for late 2013 is ~600 daily readers, pretty low compared to the most recent peak at 1000 in early 2012. This is probably because of my lower posting frequency and because the URLs of individual older blog entries changed when ScienceBlogs migrated to WordPress last year. The lower posting frequency, in its turn, is largely due to Facebook, where stuff that might have made short blog entries in 2007 ends up now. Some of the Facebook bits show up here afterwards as Pieces of My Mind.

As to Sb in general, I have no contact with the other bloggers here and hardly any contact with National Geographic that runs the place. We haven’t had an editor or a backstage forum in years. But we do get paid — still at the 2006 rate and still slightly late. I still get contacted by publicists who offer me books and DVDs to review but I rarely take them up on their offers.

But never mind that. I still love blogging! And it’s good to see that people still like reading blogs.

Birger’s Friday Link Roundup

  • Ikea’s typhoon rescue relief outguns China’s. Nope. Not surprised that their government does not care much.
  • China Ends One-Child Policy.
  • “Viking-age” ‘gold men’ unearthed in Sweden”. Actually, a bit older than the Vikings…
  • When the workload grows too huge, I recommend a solution found in Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids. The pyramid engineer creates a time loop so different temporal versions of him can work in parallel. Literally “an army of me”.
  • The Welsh language must be perfect for writing sagas about ancient heroes battling it out.
  • Creepy White Guys and Asian Women” *shudders in disgust*
  • Chinese supreme court bans the use of torture to extract confessions (only 240 years after Sweden). It also restricted the use of the death sentence. Now, if only the Americans took note…
  • Caananites had their priorities right when it came to inventions: Wine cellar from 1700 BC Team finds one of civilization’s oldest wine cellars.
  • Archaeological discoveries confirm early date of Buddha’s life.
  • A recent gem from Fox News (unintentional comedy): “Why women still need husbands”.
  • Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance.
  • I confess to judging Pope Francis because of his funny hat, but look at what he just said: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.” An establishment figure who cares about the poor?!!! (swoons)
  • China to recover shipwreck’s treasures.
  • Investigation reveals black market in China for research paper authoring. Hvistendahl notes that such a black market has arisen in China due to the enormous pressure Chinese researchers are feeling to publish something. In that country, it appears having one’s name attached to a research paper, matters more than actually conducting research.
  • Sweden is closing one of its prisons for lack of inmates. And here is what happened when a guard forgot to lock in a group of prisoners for the night.
  • News for any Aussies reading this: There is a naked-eye nova visible in Centaurus. Make sure you have the correct number of contact lenses.
  • Women and science on YouTube. Few women promote science on YouTube, because of the creepy misogynist trolls that infest the comments. (Like John Hinckley Jr., they were too crazy for the Nazis and now trawl the internet instead of trashing Jewish cemeteries). PZ Myers has a list of women scientists who nevertheless use the medium. NB. If you are a woman who intend to use YouTube for science DISABLE THE COMMENTS and don’t enable ratings.

September Pieces Of My Mind

  • I put the business part of my electric shaver in methylated spirits for half an hour. Loads of organic gunk sloughed off of it. Now I know where half of my face has been all these years.
  • Neighbour from Afghanistan describes his interpreter gig with refugee children & teens in Sweden. They’re traumatised and violent towards each other and themselves. This portly middle-aged father of five comes once a week, cooks the kids food from the old country and has long talks with them in Dari and Pashtu. Afterwards they’re calmer for a few days.
  • I like my new life as an itinerant archaeology lecturer. Good to know that it matters to a lot of people if I show up.
  • Elysium: nice sets, several excellent character performances, but just a silly story.
  • Journalists and TV show hosts, please quit asking people how they feel. It’s a worthless question.
  • Wife has reached the point where she waits for Juniorette to get bigger feet than her and quit stealing her shoes.
  • So sick. A night of shivering and sweating despite ibuprophene. Confused dreams. And at midnight, right outside our house, a blaring car horn, a woman shrieking, the thumps of car doors and the growl of the car driving off.
  • San Diego = Sant Yago = Saint Jacob = Saint James — of Compostela.
  • Fearful semi-dreams induced by fever. I thought my duvet was the woods around Umeå. I had no idea where I was. I didn’t know how big my body was.
  • This bread bag bears the slogan “We bake our bread lovingly”. I am starting a Death Metal bakery with the slogan “We bake our bread with extreme violent hostility”.
  • Pleased to see my wife doing her stat homework using my 80s high school calculator, the venerable workhorse Casio fx-180P.
  • Current consensus is that in a certain passage on the Chicago Prism, King Sennacherib of Assyria is talking about the custom of his forefathers to commission bronze statuary “imitating real-life forms” for their temples. In the first 1924 translation, when cuneiform philology had of course not yet made all of today’s advances, the king is made to speak about how his ancestors “fashioned a bronze image in the likeness of their members” for the temples. Teee-heee.
  • The electronic ear thermometer is scary. Feels like Russian roulette.
  • “When I woke up at the Emergency Room the nurse asked me if I knew what year it was. I said ‘2013’, so really I was fine, but then I had to go and add ‘BC’.”
  • I had fried calf brain and zucchini in Rome once. It was just pretty bland. Similar experience as the fried silkworms I had in Beijing, actually: you got a sense that you were eating something reasonably filling but you were kind of looking for the hot sauce bottle. Nothing to scream yuck about, nothing to scream yay about.
  • Don’t say gene-O-logy, people. It suggests that you are not fit to live and need to be fed to a crocodile. It’s gene-A-logy.