Most-Played Boardgames of 2017

magic-logoHere are the ten boardgames that I played more than four times during 2017. The year’s total was 78 different games.

  • Magic: The Gathering (1993)
  • No Thanks! (2004)
  • Patchwork (2014, a new arrival on the list: a textile-themed two-player, perfect for couples who sew!)
  • Plato 3000 (2012)
  • Heimlich & Co. (1984)
  • Keltis (2008, travel version)
  • For Sale (1997)
  • Lost Cities (1999)
  • Innovation (2010)
  • Sechs nimmt / Category 5 (1994)

Cousin E’s presence in the Rundkvist household with its convenient geek uncle lies behind this year’s emphasis on two-player games (MTG, Patchwork, Lost Cities). The games on the list are mostly short ones that you can play repeatedly in one evening. Innovation is a bit longer. A longer game that I played four times this year was Castles of Mad King Ludwig, though this one was too much collective solitaire for me. All the others are highly recommended!

Dear Reader, what was your biggest boardgaming hit of 2017?

Stats courtesy of Boardgame Geek. And here’s my list for 2016.

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December Pieces Of My Mind #2

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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!

De-Lurk

It’s time we had a de-lurk around this here blog! The last one was nearly four years ago. If you keep returning to this blog but rarely or never comment, you are a lurker, Dear Reader, and a most welcome one too.

Please comment on this entry and tell us something about yourself – like where you are, what your biggest passion is, what you’d like to see more of on the blog. And if you are a long-time lurker who has de-lurked before, re-de-lurks are much encouraged!

Pimp My Book Manuscript

Dear Reader, if you’ve followed Aard for a long time you will know that occasionally I make shameless requests for free skilled labour. I’ve asked you to pimp quite a number of things:

  • 2008, March. My Bronze Age deposition grant proposal
  • 2010, June. My 1st millennium AD mead-halls book manuscript
  • 2013, July. The notes for my first set of lectures as head teacher on Archaeology 101 in Umeå
  • 2014, April. My Bronze Age deposition book manuscript

Through this habit of mine and their generosity with their time, a number of Aard readers have ended up getting thanked in the prefaces to my books. And now the time has come again. I’ve finished another book, my seventh, and it’s about the High and Late Middle Ages. I’ve looked at (and excavated some of) the evidence for lifestyles at strongholds of the period in Östergötland province, Sweden, returning to the area of my mead-halls study. It’s my first big piece of historical-period archaeology. The work has been great fun and a great learning experience. So here it is (817 kB PDF file)! The title is:

At home at the castle. Lifestyles at the Medieval strongholds of Östergötland, AD 1200–1530.

I would be very grateful for comments, corrections and questions from Aard’s readers. Don’t be afraid to ask layman’s questions: I believe that all archaeology can and should be written in a manner accessible to a bright high schooler. But I’m sure I slip up occasionally. There are no illustrations in the file because inserting them is a hassle and some haven’t been made yet, but there will be many.

Twelve Years Of Blogging

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Today is my twelfth birthday as a blogger. 12 / 45.5 ~ 0.26 – I’ve been doing this for more than a quarter of my life! I love writing and being able to publish my stuff without any wait or editorial meddling.

Following the demise of ScienceBlogs.com, I’m now on my third URL in twelve years here. The move to WordPress caused only a 26% drop in my traffic from October to November. Sadly I lost most of the images in older entries.

Blogging is one thing I’m not changing about my lifestyle. But professionally, I’m in transition: from a solitary scholar’s life where for 23 years I’ve subsisted mainly on small grants and (more recently) short adjunct lecturer gigs, to something else. As long-term readers will know, there are several reasons for this.

  • I want co-workers and a steady salary.
  • I’ll be 46 next year, and ¾ of all advertised lectureships in Scandy archaeology are given to people who are below 47.
  • I’ve lost all faith in academic meritocracy and no longer believe in the reward I was deferring.
  • My finances have gotten really badly messed up by a combination of a) almost no adjunct work since 2015, b) expensive home renovations and c) the cost of conserving the small iron finds that are so common on the Medieval castle sites I’ve been excavating in recent years.

So, Dear Reader, I hope you’ll stick around the blog! Expect the usual three monthly entries with Pieces Of My Mind, and also some chronicling of my ups and downs on the archaeological job market beyond the garden wall of Academe’s grove. Because though laurels do grow there, a man can’t live on bay leaves only.

December Pieces Of My Mind #1

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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.
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Thessaloniki’s waterfront. Not a monochrome shot.

 

November Pieces Of My Mind #3

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

Yep, Local Favouritism In Trondheim Too

Two months ago I stopped reading the academic job ads after 14 mostly frustrating years: Scandy academic archaeology is not a meritocracy. But I still have a few job applications in the pipe, which I haven’t withdrawn. The pipe is typically eight months long. The other day I got a reply from Trondheim that was exceptionally weird even for this strange world.

I have had bad experiences with NTNU, the University of Trondheim. In 2015 I applied for two jobs there, and both were given to local people whose qualification levels were far below mine. As is the rule in Norway, the hiring committees were chaired by in-house people. Still, when another one of these sweet førsteamanuensis positions (40–50% research time built into your salary!) was advertised earlier this year, I applied. And one month ago the hiring committee delivered the report on its deliberations.

I was afraid to read the verdict. After all these years it still hurts to get trashed unfairly. So I left the thing unread for a while. Took a constitutional walk. Got back, downloaded the PDF, took a deep breath, opened the file, pressed CTRL-END. Because I’ve learned the hard way never to read what they say about me. Just check the ranking list at the end and get it over with.

Remember now, as per the Norwegian rules, the committee was headed by an NTNU faculty member. Here’s what their ranking list looks like.

1. Me
2. Local Person A with not so great qualifications
3. Local Persons B and C plus Other Norwegian Person, all with even less qualifications

The hiring committee claimed that Local Person A was not very far behind me, which is factually incorrect, but they were very clear that number 1, that was me. This has happened only once before to me in 14 years. (On that occasion three advertised steady jobs disappeared due to reorganisation before anyone got hired. Including the one I was ranked top candidate for and had interviewed for.)

So I was, stupidly, somewhat optimistic for a few weeks. NTNU scheduled a preliminary Skype interview with me for last week. I was nervous, but it went really well as far as I could tell. I’ve sat through an adversarial interview or two, but this was friendly and constructive. I did neither better nor worse than in past interviews that have landed me jobs. The head of the archaeology department at NTNU’s Science Museum was kind of stony-faced and formal, but maybe that’s just his style, what do I know? The head of collections and the archaeology department’s administrative director were both quite charming. After the interview I got a letter informing me that test lectures and longer interviews would take place in Trondheim on December 11-13. ”Stand by for further info.”

Earlier this week I did receive further info. NTNU told me by means of a form letter on a recruitment website that they aren’t interested in hearing me give a test lecture or interview me live. Neither the participants in the Skype interview nor the HR department are willing to explain why. All I’ve received is a blandly formal note from HR that speaks vaguely of an ”overarching evaluation on the basis of applications, evaluation committé’s statement and the Skype interviews”.

And with me out of the running, the job will be given to Local Person A, B or C, or to Other Norwegian Person, none of whom has qualifications on a par with mine if you ask NTNU’s own hiring committee.

The unwillingness of the involved to communicate with me now is understandable, because they know that they aren’t just dealing with a job applicant. In a sense they’re dealing with the media. Specifically a blogger with a big readership who has recently been writing critical pieces about questionable hiring practices at Norwegian universities. Now, some might say that it’s unwise to hire critical public voices. (Not that it has deterred Umeå University or the Linnaeus University in my case.) Others believe that on the contrary, university faculty have a duty to speak out critically in public.

But consider this. If my blogging is the main reason that NTNU doesn’t want to hire me, then they will be hiring a poorly qualified local person instead of me because I have criticised Norwegian universities for hiring poorly qualified local people. ”We’re not going to honour your qualifications and give you this job, because you have said that you don’t think we’re going to honour your qualifications and give you this job.” And if a distrust of loud academics is not the main reason, then, well, it’s probably just the same old local favouritism.

Anyway, I’ve lost my last shred of faith in academic meritocracy. University archaeology in Scandinavia is a place where often quite poorly qualified inLASade people in managerial positions hire their friends, allies and protegées. And so the cycle is perpetuated. My advice to young archaeologists is to stay the hell away from academia, and if you do go there, learn above all to kiss ass.

In other news, I finished writing my sixth academic monograph yesterday. I’m not planning on writing any more of those.

Update same afternoon: Haha, this is awesome. I did some checking on the stony-faced head of the archaeology department. And it turns out that he was on the hiring committee in Oslo that gave those three steady jobs to local youth back in May! And he co-wrote a book with the youngest of the three in 2015. This guy has kept me from interviewing at two Norwegian university museums in 6 months! So great. Gotta love academia.

Staying At An Invisible House

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Swedish House, 1930s, from the N.

I’m back again at the Swedish Institute’s writer’s retreat in Kavala, Greece, finishing my Medieval castles book. By now I’ve spent a total of three weeks here, taking daily walks. And it’s annoyed me that I’ve never been able to see the place I stay at from street level. Such a Lovecraftian feel to it. Does the Swedish House, as it is known, even exist when I’m not there?

The building was finished in 1936. At that time the site was outside town in a commanding location, and the building was a comparatively tall one with its 2½ lofty floors. After the war, though, Kavala grew greatly and the Swedish House with its terraced garden became surrounded by taller, much uglier buildings. They’re in the way when you walk along the waterfront, so you see them and you see the mountainside behind the city, but you can’t see what’s immediately behind the newer structures from most directions.

Yesterday morning I went up onto the roof and looked around. I found an unimpeded view ESE towards the acropolic fortress in the Old Town, which is unsurprising because it is the city’s highest point. But I also found good sightlines to shoreline level toward the SW: the area immediately south of the municipal football field. So I took a picture of this view.

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Fire station seen from the roof of the Swedish House.

Today I grabbed an umbrella and walked down to the fire station on the other side of the football field. I failed to identify the Swedish House by eye in the chaotic jumble of later rooftops, but then, my eyes have no zoom capability. So I took a picture in the direction of the Swedish House, went back up and checked out the pic on the laptop. And look, I found it!

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Swedish House, top floor, WNW face, seen from the front stairs of the fire station.

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Swedish House, close-up from W.

Update, same evening: I borrowed a pair of binoculars and went down to the fire station again. I took this picture of the Swedish House from a vantage point some ways up the road from there, through the binocks.

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Swedish House, top floor, WNW face, seen from a vantage point near the fire station.

November Pieces Of My Mind #2

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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!
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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.