August Pieces of My Mind

I’m not saying that my mind is particularly august.

  • First Aid Kit rule. And are godless: “There’s one life and it’s this life and it’s beautiful”
  • After listening to Ken & Robin’s latest podcast episode I did some reading on Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais. The mind boggles at the idea of a Medieval army lead by two violently delusional psychotics.
  • Reading a book that shows its author, an American teacher of creative writing, to have a tenuous grasp on English. He writes shown for shone, immure for inure and lumpen for lumpy. Boo to his editor!
  • For the first time in 30 years I’ve seen a seal swimming at the summer house. Yay!
  • A sinister-looking gang of muscular perch are hanging around the swimming ladder on the dock, acting all casual.
  • I hate spectator sports. I want Russia to have the Winter Olympics as a punishment for its anti-gay policies.
  • This prog rock audience looks like a gaming convention with a 25-year lower age limit.
  • I’ve discovered that English pubs are excellent hangouts on lonely evenings. They serve cheap and filling meals, they offer wifi, and they don’t fill up with drinkers until about the time I head back to my lodgings.
  • One of my fellow guests at the B&B, a white-haired lady who favours low-key floral-print dresses, is a retired computer programmer. Welcome to the future!
  • The last time I visited the British Library was in the late 80s when they were still in their old building near the British Museum. Today I went to the new place and looked at the Beowulf manuscript and other good stuff. Then I read a few pages in an e-book.
  • My dad and his best buddy have often placed in the top-10 in the annual sailing competition around the island of Tjörn near Gothenburg. This year they won the whole shebang for the first time, beating almost 400 other boats. The boat they always sail is 60 years old now. And my dad and his buddy are 70.
  • I once translated the beautiful 1st paragraph of Lovecraft’s “Strange High House in the Mist” into Swedish for fun. Searching for it in a binder I instead found a forgotten translation of the entire “Cats of Ulthar”. Huh.
  • September is going to be a little crazy. I’m scheduled to take at least 16 air trips and a few long rail trips too.
  • Got some cool spam. “Reply back as soon as you receive this notification massage for your claims” plus Swedish translation, “Svara tillbaka så fort du får detta meddelande massage för dina påståenden”.
  • ”The English term ’empirical’ derives from the Greek word ἐμπειρία, which is cognate with and translates to the Latin experientia, from which we derive the word ‘experience’ and the related ‘experiment’. The term was used of the Empiric school of ancient Greek medical practitioners, who rejected the doctrines of the Dogmatic school, preferring to rely on the observation of ‘phenomena’.” From Wikipedia.
  • ”Ukrainian Antonov planes are the most common airplane brand on the planet, with total of 22,000 aircraft built and thousands of planes currently operating in the former Soviet Union and the developing countries.” From Wikipedia.

  • In Sweden, having applied for an academic job and waited a few months, you get a ranked list of all the applicants and an external reviewer statement about everybody’s qualifications. I recently got an unusually favourable reviewer statement for a job at a university in another country. But in that country, they won’t tell you who the other applicants are, how many they are or how you’re ranked against them. So all I know is that my reviewer statement is comparable to ones where I have been given jobs before. But I have no idea how these particular reviewers’ praise output is calibrated, nor whether they have been even more effusive about other applicants. Exciting and a little frustrating.

I Was Wrong About Book-On-Demand

Here’s a fun case of me not anticipating an imminent technological development, not thinking that last centimetre of far enough. In July of 2007, six years ago, I wrote:

Lately I have come to think of books as computer devices, combining the functions of screen and backup medium. All texts these days are written and type-set on computers, so the paper thingy has long been a secondary manifestation of the text. People like publisher Jason Epstein and book blogger the Grumpy Old Bookman have predicted that we will soon have our books made on demand at any store that may today have a machine for making photographic prints. The texts will reside on the net, on our USB memory sticks or on our handheld computers/cell phones. The paper output/backup-storage device we call “a book” will be produced swiftly in the store by a dedicated machine.

A bit less than six months later, Amazon released the first Kindle e-book reader, making sure (in the words of The Guardian’s tech editor Charles Arthur), that a few years later “Amazon has millions of stores right on peoples’ desks, smartphones and tablets through its website and Kindle app”. Book-on-demand printing will never become big as I thought in 2007, because the texts don’t just reside on our phones as I noted – we read them on our phones now. I’ve never seen the point of a dedicated e-reader, just as I quit using my iPod as soon as I got a smartphone with enough storage for my music files. All devices dealing with information are converging on smartphones. And so, while use of the free Kindle smartphone app is booming, sales of the physical Kindle device are dropping off, reports The Guardian. And brick-and-mortar book stores are going the way of the record and video rental stores.

Strange though how poorly we (well, myself in this case) interconnect the various contents of our heads – an inability which H.P. Lovecraft calls the most merciful thing in the world in the opening paragraph of “The Call of Cthulhu”. When I wrote enthusiastically about book-on-demand printing, I had actually already begun reading books on my phone more than a year previously, in April of 2006, and I was already aware of e-reader hardware at the time. Only in 2010 however do I find myself entertaining the possibility of the paperback book becoming obsolete. This oversight probably had to do with e-book availability. In early 2006 few new books were available in digital format. The first one I read was a novel put on-line for free by its author, Michael “Grumpy Old Bookman” Allen. And reading PDFs on a smartphone still is no fun today, let alone on my tiny 2006 Qtek smartphone. Little did I know what Amazon was planning.

The Grumpy Old Bookman has returned to blogging! Check out his site if you like reading and/or writing and/or publishing!

Changing Fates of the Sälna Runestone

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The Stone of Sälna

The Stone of Sälna is a runestone (U 323) erected about AD 1000 at Sälna hamlet where a major road crossed Hargsån stream in Skånela parish, Uppland. (This is not far from where Arlanda airport now sprawls.) None of this is unusual. But the stone’s great height, its inscription and its later fate are. Here’s what can be made out of the runes as they survive today and as documented by a 17th century antiquarian.

Østeinn and Jorundr and Bjorn, the brothers, erected [this] stone [after] …steinn drums, their father. God help his spirit and soul, forgive him his crimes and sins. Forever shall remain, while there are people, the bridge compactly paved, wide, for the good man. Young men made it after their father. There cannot be a better road memorial.

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With almost 200 runes, this is one of the longest inscriptions we have, partly composed in fornyrðislag metre, and it is far from the terse formulaic language that characterises later runestones from the boom decades after about 1050. What drums means is uncertain, but it was apparently the dead father’s byname. The bridge in question was an earthen causeway.

The Stone of Sälna was left alone until 1820, when the owners of nearby Skånelaholm manor were laying out an English landscape park across a couple of hills. Such a park had to have visit-worthy sites, such as gazebos, waterfalls, lily ponds, fake ruins, why not a fake cave in which a fake hermit could sit during parties and dispense gnomic utterances to passersby. Or why not a runestone. So Mr. and Mrs. Jennings had the Stone of Sälna hauled by oxen from the stream to the top of a wooded hill next to the manor. It proved so heavy that the workmen decided to break it into pieces, losing bits of the inscription in the process. One part of the stone was erected at the end of a path in the park and given an ornamental flower fringe, while two others functioned as gate posts. Such treatment of runestones was not condoned by antiquarians at the time: in 1857 Richard Dybeck would rail against it.

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The Jenningses also had an enigmatic inscription added to the stone’s back side. The literature I’ve used suggests that it should be understood in the context of the Romantic era’s “companionate marriage ideal … romantic friendship and the cult of true love” (in the words of Axel Nissen).

For
Hedvig Margareta Hamilton
John Jennings’
Beloved departed wife
By
His present happy
Sophie Eleonore Rosenhane
The stone was erected in
1820
After 18 years’ marriage

So we have a second wife commemorating and thanking the short-lived first wife. For what? For dying conveniently? Dybeck characterises the inscription as “meaningless”. My guess is that the incongruous message has something to do with the stone’s new function as an easter egg in a landscape park, a humorous curiosity to reward a guest who took the trouble to walk up onto the hilltop. Though semi-public, this message was never intended as a main part of the Jennings’ family’s public face.

In 1940 the stone was reassembled and re-erected on the park hill – its exact original site having been forgotten. The top piece with half a cross, extant in the 17th century and probably lost in 1820, is still missing.

*

My friend Howard Williams takes great interest in commemoration, monument re-use and antiquarian attitudes to the archaeological record. Check out his blog with the suitably metal title Archaeodeath!

Swedish Metal Detector Legislation: No Improvement In Sight

Despite loud (and in my opinion, well argued) opposition to the Swedish restrictions on metal detector use by honest amateurs, our authorities are sadly not coming round to anything resembling the Danish legislation that works so well.

My friend and fieldwork collaborator Tobias Bondeson is a skilled amateur detectorist who regularly publishes scholarly papers on his finds. He pointed me to the latest developments in Swedish officialdom on the topic, a 26 March proposition from the Ministry for Culture to Parliament: Kulturmiljöns mångfald, ”The Diversity of the Historic Environment”. Tobias sent me some insightful comments on 19 April on the bits about metal detectors. Here’s a summary.

  • The proposition’s definition of a metal detector, ”a device that can be used to detect underground metal objects electronically”, inadvertently also covers magnetometers and, to some extent, ground-penetrating radar gear. These latter can’t be used to find small things like coins and should carefully be excluded by the rules designed to keep crooks from picking up Iron Age coins.
  • The crucial distinction between ploughsoil (where everything is out of stratigraphic context) and untouched stratigraphy is still left out of the discussion despite decades of people pointing this out.
  • The suggested legislation introduces the intent to find antiquities into whether or not an applicant should be given a permit to use a metal detector. If you have that intent, then no permit. But a person’s intent can’t be observed. And there are no amateur metal detectorists who would not like to find antiquities. The important distinction is whether a given detectorist is honest and submits his finds to a museum according to the rules, or if he is a crook.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need a system similar to how we deal with hunting rifles. Anybody who can demonstrate the necessary knowledge of how to use this tool constructively and responsibly should be given a licence to do so. And if a person turns out not to measure up to our collective trust in them, then we revoke that licence.

In Sweden right now, it is easier to get a permit to use a device that is immediately lethal to a 600 kg bull elk at 200 m than to get a metal detector permit. And meanwhile, our cultural heritage is eroding bit by bit in the ploughsoil. The distribution maps of more categories of archaeological find and site than I care to count show Sweden as white space while Denmark is full of the stuff. We should foster a culture of responsible metal-detector associations and let the detectorists police themselves while contributing their time and expertise pro bono to archaeological research and enjoying their heritage.

Heptagonal Dice Trays

I don’t like the loud rattle of dice or the way they careen across the table, scattering game markers and ending up on the floor. And so I’ve been thinking about buying a dice tray. With low walls and a soft interior surface, it solves both problems. When my friend Foaad gave me a huge gift certificate at Dragon’s Lair, one of Stockholm’s best board and card game stores and the only one to my knowledge which offers gaming tables, I decided it was time.

Check out my beautiful new handmade dice trays! Per Landberger makes these without even being an underpaid Third World sweat shop worker. And it took me a while to realise that they’re heptagonal. That’s how crazy this guy is. Order them here.

(I also got the 2011 cooperative boardgame Yggdrasil about the twilight of the Norse Gods — which employs one big chunky six-sided die — and the 6-player expansion for Settlers.)

European Skeptics Conference, 23-25 August 2013, Stockholm

This has me excited! The Board of the Swedish Skeptics just decided on a date and a city for the 14th European Skeptics Conference: 23-25 August 2013, Stockholm, Sweden. Check it out!

The Swedish Skeptics Association (Föreningen Vetenskap och Folkbildning) invites skeptics worldwide, and particularly in Europe, to the 14th European Skeptics Conference, 23-25 August 2013, in Stockholm, Sweden. (No, not 2012, when it would interfere with the Mayan apocalypse.) The conference is one in the series supported by the European Council of Skeptical Organisations.

The organisers wish to hear ASAP from prospective speakers and people who wish to suggest speakers. Note that we aim for an even gender representation and for a mix of backgrounds: activists, academics, medical professionals, journalists and more. We also welcome offers of partnership and support from likeminded organisations.

Enigma at Dawn

Dear Reader, help me interpret this odd situation.

It’s 5:40 in the morning. I’m on my way to the commuter train. Passing the vacant lot of the closed school that burned in ’06, I first see a van that stands with flat rear tyres backed into the leca gravel that covers the house foundation. It bears the logo of a housing company and looks slightly beat up.

Then I see a grizzled long-haired man kneeling in the gloom under a tree next to a partly dismantled red four wheel motorbike. Its seat is on the ground. The guy is frantically tearing up tufts of grass as if he’s dropped some small part of the bike. With his right hand he holds a small LED flashlight. He ignores me. I’m short for time and I feel a little uneasy, so I offer no assistance. In two hours or so, lots of people will be walking this path.

What was that about?!

Blog Carnival Call for Submissions

Wednesday 24 October will see the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival appear in all its archaeo/anthro glory at The Primate Diaries. If you have read or blogged anything good on those themes lately, then make sure to submit it to Eric ASAP. (You are encouraged to submit stuff you’ve found on other people’s blogs.)

There’s an open hosting slot on 5 December and further ones closer to Christmas. All bloggers with an interest in the subject are welcome to volunteer to me.