May Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • My buddy Anton dug for two summers at Denisova Cave during high school!
  • Any Tolkien fan can tell you that orks are not safe to be with. That's why I'd never ever trust any of my coworkers around a dairy farm.
  • Annoying how the liver, the spleen and the kidneys all do a bunch of functionally unrelated things. Sloppy design. Almost makes me doubt the Biblical creation narratives.
  • Yay! Been asked to return for the third year running and teach landscape history to international exchange students in Växjö during September.
  • Turns out archaeagenetics is not archaeogenetics.
  • Who is that, playing jazz on the monastery church organ in such a criminal manner? It must be some felonious monk.
  • Says Christian Lovén about Medieval Sweden: "... erection of private castles required the king's permission. No law mentions this, but some 'licenses to crenellate' are known from the 1360s and onwards. ... Licenses appear to have been granted to followers of the king or at times of weak central authority."
  • Played some Ella Fitzgerald in the car, recorded back in Lovecraft's lifetime.
  • Bird cherry and lilacs a-bloom, blackbird singing. I love this season.
  • Would you prefer to live in a state of constant malaise or constantly in the state of Malaysia?
  • Often during housework my earbuds will snag on something and get ripped out of my ears. This combination of surprise, a little pain, a loud noise and the cutoff of a podcast always makes me, momentarily, incredibly angry.
  • When asked, my wife replied that she wanted one-and-a-half sausage for lunch. I began humming "Part-time Lover".
  • I like art. I hate artist's statements.
  • Ow. I hit my head on the lamp that's been hanging provisionally in Jrette's room for 5½ years.
  • Aaand I'll be the main teacher of freshman archaeology in Umeå again come September!
  • The Chinese make a bit of black tea, or "red tea" as they call it, which has nothing to do with rooibos. But their heart isn't in it. Or they're simply too Chinese to want to make anything like Indian tea.
  • Chinese brand names are often chosen to look European to the Chinese consumer. The silk shirt my brother in law bought me is a genuine Vonsurki.
  • In Poland: Castellologists need to watch Miami Vice. It's got Donjonson.
  • In Poland: Seen a lot of stars of David spraypainted around the countryside, but no swastikas. Local colleagues however explain that when football supporters here want to offend opposing supporters, they will spray the star on their enemies' property. "You Jew." /-:
  • In Poland: Had a quick rain-sodden look at the ruined renaissance manor of Bąkowa Góra, or as our guide put it, the Hill of Bonk.
  • In Poland: Caught a glimpse of an ad for a radio station named Radio Mary. It had the silhouettes of two people with big afros. Funky, thought I until I realised that they were halos.

More like this

Archaeagenetics is about uninteresting bugs that are neither eukaryotes or bacteria (but they live in interesting places).
"archaeogenetics" would be about what we old-timers call "the pre-cambrian".

Poland exports a lot of smaller buses for local use. I have seen the brand name "Solaris" on buses in the Munich airport and the municipal buses in Umeå. They got the name from a novel written by the guy who predicted nanotech and virtual reality back in 1966.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 31 May 2014 #permalink

Denisova Cave bones were invesigated by a team led by ex-Swede Svante Pääbo (himself descended from the Baltic) , and his father was a Nobel laurate with two families. Who said boffins are uninteresting?

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 31 May 2014 #permalink

Well done on the jobs.

I had to get Google Translate to say "Pääbo" to learn how to pronounce it.

I now desperately want a crenellation licence.

By John Massey (not verified) on 31 May 2014 #permalink

As I understand it if the king became wished to show his displeasure, or you seemed to be showing him up, he could order a decrenellation of your castle.

Until recently the Chines, along with a tendency to name products in a way that implied they were imported into China, they tended to use the names 'Red' and 'Star' quite a bit to remind people of their glorious revolutionary days. Red Star sanitary napkins sold well enough in China but failed to catch on in western markets.

I knew a lady who brought some back with her after a business trip to China. Irony and twisted humor being what it has become I think they ought to re-float the brand.

Ah, the Brits gave up on licenses to crennelate long ago! They just sic health and safety on recalcitrant Earls. Sorry gov, but that gate's too narrow for emergency access, that funny ditch of yours is not big enough for firefighting, and the wall-walk is not wheelchair accessible (

The backside of Christian Lovéns book is that it is not a complete book of all medieval castles in current Sweden.

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 31 May 2014 #permalink

Sean @5: I thought that was what Inland Revenue was for. At least, they encouraged a bunch of the remaining nobility to give up a bunch of castles in exchange for hefty tax breaks. And if that didn't do it, heating costs would. As much as I like the idea of owning a castle, the cost of keeping one of those things warm through a northern European (or northern US, for that matter) winter is prohibitive.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 31 May 2014 #permalink

Cow-ork-ers? That gets my "Groan of the month" award, hands - or should I say hooves - down.

@jane - Well, at least you explained it to me.

"Almost makes me doubt the Biblical creation narratives" - it troubles me that so many Intelligent Design advocates seem to be engineers. But then, I see quite a few engineering designs that are not that intelligent.

But what I want to know is how a HK Chinese politician who can't speak English got an MA in Glasgow and an MBA in Wales. Sign language?

By John Massey (not verified) on 31 May 2014 #permalink…

A dog (or more correctly a bitch with two half grown pups) formed an extraordinary partnership with me once when I was working as a farm labourer (not the other way round - I mean, she volunteered the partnership, not me) which I might talk about some time, if only because I think perhaps it was not extraordinary at all, and has some explanatory power in relation to dog domestication.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Jun 2014 #permalink

Oh, I see you have Kelpies (dog breed) in Sweden.

"In Sweden they are widely used for tracking and rescue work."

That would make it easier to tell the story, if people understand what they are like. They are not dogs to keep in a suburban garden or high-rise apartment. They are working dogs.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Jun 2014 #permalink

We're having sticky rice dumplings (zongzi 粽子) to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival/pubic holiday.

Noting that both are cooked in leaves, and may both have started as 'portable food', my daughter has been drawing culinary comparisons by telling my wife about tamales. Apparently fillings for tamales favoured by the Mexica included flamingo, axolotl, bees and worms, while the Maya favoured theirs filled with iguana. My wife is gastronomically unenthused. Sea slug? Yes. Yummy. And so good for you. Axolotl? No.

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Jun 2014 #permalink

Brother-in-law brought zongzi from Hangzhou last week and Jrette has been eating them for breakfast. I agree, blubbery pork is probably hard to beat as a filling.

"A genuine Vonsurki."
Sounds like some aristocrats in the Transylvanian mountains.
--- --- ---
Speaking of creation stories...Of the hundreds of writers of urban fantasy maybe four or five are brilliant. Richard Kadrey is one of them.
His protagonist finds out Jehova is really a demiurge, he stole the whole universe from some Elder Gods (not the Lovecraft ones, these are actually meaner) and sealed them up. No wonder he had to fake the creation story. "In the beginning God stole the Cosmos from the Angra Qom Ya" does not seem very dignified.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 02 Jun 2014 #permalink

The old Hong Kong joke about the English: "The people who paddle backwards."

Rowing is more biomechanically efficient than paddling facing forward. I pace them on my bicycle on the cycle track alongside the river, and I know who goes faster. - If you want to see where I live, that's it - right opposite the 750 metre mark at 0.35 on that clip. There are worse sights and sounds to wake up to every morning than the Chinese University girls' rowing team practising. Much worse. Much much...

LOL - my daughter is shouting encouragement to the German/Serbian/Bosnian tennis player Andrea Petkovic on Cantonese. I don't think that's going to work.

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Jun 2014 #permalink

"LOL – my daughter is shouting encouragement to the German/Serbian/Bosnian tennis player Andrea Petkovic on TV…in Cantonese. I don’t think that’s going to work."

I don't know why, but there is a large Chinese population in Serbia.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 02 Jun 2014 #permalink

There's a large Chinese population pretty much everywhere, including my house. My father-in-law once invested in a restaurant in Belgrade. Sadly war broke out and Yugoslavia collapsed a month or two later, and he didn't see that money again for 15 years.

The populations follow the trade. In the bronze age there were Assyrian populations in just about any town and city of decent size in Anatolia and Mesopotamia.
Han people, the new Assyrians? I don't think they will like the comparison.
--- ---
Blackbirds singing...I was in Berlin for a wedding last weekend. The swallows and pigeons made a lot of noise day and night.
Where I grew up, the magpe chicks would start up at sunrise (2 A.M.) and make it impossible to sleep. Revenge of the theropod dinosaurs on the mammals?

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 02 Jun 2014 #permalink

Magpe should be "magpie".
A graphic novel set in an imaginary Chinese city (with a taste of Berlin) is named "Asfalthjärtan". The author is swedish, so no English edition (yet).

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 02 Jun 2014 #permalink

There’s a large Chinese population pretty much everywhere

I have mentioned before that I live in a small town (population 1X,XXX). Said town is in one of the whitest states in the US. There are enough Chinese in this town to support an Asian market. Well, OK, this is a university town, and most of those Chinese are affiliated in one way or another (students, staff, or family members thereof) with the university. But that only means we're ahead of the curve.


The first half of that title is cognate with the English "asphalt", but I'm not sure what hjärta means. The Asphalt Jungle, or something along those lines?

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 02 Jun 2014 #permalink

From small beginnings, the Han have become the largest ethnic group in the world. In evolutionary terms, the best strategy is to marry them.

The physically beautiful Serbian tennis player Ana Ivanovic keeps hitting the ball down the line when she should play a lower risk cross-court shot because she learned to play tennis inside an empty swimming pool during the Bosnian War.

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Jun 2014 #permalink

@John Only "physically beautiful"? Do you know something about her mental landscape that we don't?

@Jane - No, I was not implying anything. She seems very sweet natured, maybe a bit too gentle-natured and nervous to achieve her full potential as a professional tennis player.

She's 6'0" tall, drop-dead beautiful and so far has won more than US$11 million in prize money, so I am trying not to feel too sorry for her :-)

I'm betting she has some Mongol or Turkic ancestry, from her appearance.

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Jun 2014 #permalink

(OT) "More people get themselves killed by hurricanes because they think the female-named ones are harmless"
-WTF? So if hurricane Shelob is coming, dumbasses think it is safe? Or hurricane Grendel's Mother?

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 03 Jun 2014 #permalink

Ah the good old days, when all typhoons had English female names...I still have very strong memories of Hope and the destruction she wrought.

News on trousers - about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, nomadic people from West Eurasia migrated east to the Tarim Basin, then within the past 2,000 years there was an influx into that area of people from East Eurasia, and that's where the Uyghur people came from.

The Hazara people are a compound of Mongol refugees from mediaeval Persia and the local Dari speaking substrate of the Afghan highlands.

So if you genotype a person who is half Chinese and half European, and you plot her on a global PCA plot, she will cluster with Uyghurs and Hazara - not because she is a Uyghur or Hazara, obviously, she is not, but because she, and people of those populations, are all about 50% East Eurasian and 50% West Eurasian in the make-up of their genomes.

Could be 'he' of course, it just happens the one I know about is a 'she'. She may or may not wear trousers, depending on what she feels like wearing. When she rides a horse, she will definitely wear trousers, though.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Jun 2014 #permalink

If you ride a horse, you really want that cross-shaped crotch-piece that they mention in the Abstract - otherwise bouncing up and down all day on the seam in your jeans does the skin on your *rse no good at all.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Jun 2014 #permalink

Birger @29: I've heard about that study, and I'm a bit skeptical. The study period covered 1950-2012. But for about half that period (early 1950s through 1978), all tropical storms in the Atlantic were given female names. Before the 1950s, hurricanes were either named after the affected regions (e.g., the New England hurricane of 1938, still the worst one to have hit this region) or, for a few years, assigned names from a phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, …). Starting in 1979, male and female names alternated. (If there are enough named storms to exhaust the list of 21 names--Q, U, X, Y, and Z are skipped because so few West European names begin with those letters--additional storms are assigned Greek letter names; so far this has only happened in 2005.) So the comparison only makes sense for years after that change.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Jun 2014 #permalink

It's not really credible for typhoons (tropical cyclones are called hurricanes in the Atlantic, typhoons in the Pacific and cyclones in the Indian Ocean, but they are all the same thing), because until the 1990s they were all given English female names.

Don't know about cyclones though - I think they moved away from using just female names earlier.

I suspect Eric is right though - it sounds apocryphal, or just an artefact of the data.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Jun 2014 #permalink

It's an actual study, John, though I don't have the link handy. As you say, it probably doesn't include the western Pacific. It may include the eastern Pacific, where such storms are also called hurricanes ("typhoon" is used only in the northwest Pacific; I believe "cyclone" is used for all such storms south of the equator, including the one documented South Atlantic hurricane, known as Cyclone Catarina after its landfall location in Santa Catarina state in southern Brazil). The East Pacific also switched from an all-female list to a mixed gender list in the late 1970s. Whenever the A storm in the Atlantic is a female name, the A storm in the East Pacific has a male name, and vice versa (that, too, is alternated from year to year), so there is no ambiguity about which basin, e.g., Hurricane Barbara is in (though a storm that crosses Mexico/Central America intact is now allowed to keep its name, which wasn't true in the past).

Even if there had been typhoons with male English names, I don't think the data would be meaningful. Most of the people who live in that region aren't native speakers of Indo-European languages, so they would not necessarily be expected to know that any given name is a boy's or girl's name (at least outside of the Philippines, where people would know saints' names thanks to Catholicism). But since the current list is drawn from the languages of the region (Tagalog, Malay, Vietnamese, etc.), there might be an effect if a typhoon hits the country from whose language the name was taken. I think we will need a few more decades of data to make that statistically significant, however.

North Indian cyclones now have names drawn from the languages of southern and southwestern Asia, e.g., Narges, which is a female name in Farsi (we have a student here with that given name). I know nothing of the gender distribution. As there are multiple language groups in that region (Indo-European, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan, and Afro-Asian), the same caveats apply as for the West Pacific.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Jun 2014 #permalink


In the north-western Pacific I'm pretty sure most people would have had sufficient familiarity with English to recognise the old naming system as girls' names, given that simple traditional names were used (Rose, Hope, Daisy, etc). Now, the names are a mix taken from languages all around the region, so I imagine often many people have no idea of either the gender of the name or even the language it comes from.

Not that it matters - it's just a code name for a tropical cyclone. What I do sense in Hong Kong, if anything, is growing complacency, and pressure from the business lobby to keep businesses open and running (versus a 'better safe than sorry' approach) but that is not an unexpected reaction (1) to greatly improved predictions, warnings, preparedness and protection, (2) because we haven't been clobbered by a really big storm surge since the 1937 event that killed about 10,000 people here.

We had a near miss last year - a super-typhoon skirted us to the east. I was watching that one really closely, particularly as there were warnings of storm surge. A bit closer and we might have seen a bit more drama.

So, if I'm right about the increasing complacency, that would go against the theory, since English female names are no longer used here. But people were pretty good about the last one - they got the message that it was big and close, and it was a total lock-down.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Jun 2014 #permalink

I'm glad I'm not the only one with that earbud problem!

By JustaTech (not verified) on 04 Jun 2014 #permalink

(OT) -The lowdown on Sweden's National Day (tomorrow)
Myself, I chose to celebrate the invasion of Normandy on June 6. Without it, Nazi Germany (and western Europe) would have been overrun by Stalin alone... not a very pleasant outcome. BTW Saving Private Ryan is one of the few war films I find endurable.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 05 Jun 2014 #permalink

My earbuds keep getting ripped out in the g-y-m, but I didn't want to mention it.

Saving Private Ryan is a good film and, according to D Day veterans, the extremely harrowing beach landing scenes are historically accurate.

Unfortunately, I initially misread Birger's comment as "invasion by Normandy", and was just about to start celebrating with him, but then thought "Wait a minute - that was in October."

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Jun 2014 #permalink

There are a number of problems with that hurricane survey. To start with, all hurricanes had feminine names starting with the first named storms in the early 1950s and into the 1970s. Then, no one took hurricane evacuation warnings seriously until the newsman Dan Rather put a plastic overlay on a weather radar in 1963 and got thousands of people to leave Galveston, Texas where the storm hit. Before then, hurricanes often killed thousands. Afterwards, they killed maybe dozens. All of the storms between the first named storms and the first storm with an effective evacuation had girls names.

The 60-earth guy got the idea of Trojan planets wrong (a Trojan is an object orbiting sixty degrees ahead of or behind a planet). Trojan configurations aren't stable unless one of the objects is much, much bigger than the other, so they can't all be earth-sized.