August Pieces Of My Mind #1

Sailing the skiff my dad built for us when I was a kid felt surprisingly familiar even after 30 years. Sailing the skiff my dad built for us when I was a kid felt surprisingly familiar even after 30 years.
  • For the first time I got an ebook instead of a paper book to review for Aard. I like it. Less pressure to push through and read + review a boring book when all they've given me is a copy of a file.
  • Jehovah's Witnesses really have a self-defeating theology. Their cap on the number of people who go to heaven is already way below the global number of members. And of course it gets worse over time.
  • Chocolate makers want to make the whole world Lesbian with secret candy additives! It's right there in the name! Mondelez! Wake up, sheeple!
  • I was surprised to find an unopened can of tuna in my mother's fridge. After all, canning obviates refrigeration as a food preservation method. I was then doubly surprised to find an identical can in her freezer.
  • Reclaim the Reclam Kunstführer!
  • There's been loads of debate about the metal detector hobby in Scandy archaeology. Fornvännen's October issue will contain an interesting new development. For the first time, to my knowledge, a Swedish detectorist association is responding in a professional archaeology venue to what the pros have been saying about them.
  • Spoiler: Miéville breaks the mystery writer's contract in The City & The City. The plot hinges on certain archaeological finds having known unearthly physical properties of interest to engineers, yet he doesn't mention this to the reader until very late in the story.
  • It's clear from The Lord of the Rings that orcs in that book are the same beings as are referred to in The Hobbit as "goblins". But I was surprised to find that The Hobbit actually mentions orcs as distinct from goblins. On the last page of ch. 7, Gandalf advises Bilbo and the dwarves to avoid the Grey Mountains because "they are simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins and orcs of the worst description".
  • Jrette and I just read past the halfway point in The Hobbit, when Bombur falls into the enchanted stream.
  • I'm on the current episode of the Token Skeptic podcast, talking about the ideas of latter-day Ancient Astronaut and Banking Conspiracy writer Michael Tellinger.
  • Three great bands I've discovered through Google Play Music's recommendation service recently: Wolfmother, Skambankt, Eagles of Death Metal.
  • Facebook took one good look at the pile of data about myself that I've supplied them with, and decided that I would definitely be interested in an ad in German for a gay bed & breakfast service. "Stay with people like yourself!"
  • Hey everybody who writes! Are you looking for one simple way to make me lose all confidence in you? It's easy! Just wobble randomly between the past and present tense! For that really solid punch, wobble inside sentences!
  • Find sorting pro tip. When excavating with students, give each trench not only a name, but a distinctive context number series. That way you'll know that a find from layer 201 is from trench H even when a student forgets to write the trench's name on the baggie.
  • This skeptical celeb said he supports the death penalty for people who commit crazily cruel crimes. I'd like to remind him that nobody actually has any free will. The reason that I don't commit crazily cruel crimes is that I'm not motivated to by the causality chain in my brain. People who commit such crimes are demonstrably nuts and should just be kept off the streets for everybody's safety. The legal system should not deal in revenge. There is no such thing as an evil person.
  • Copy editing a paper written by natural scientists. Changing their passive voice ("the samples were dissolved") to active voice ("we dissolved the samples") throughout. MWA HA HA HA HA HA
  • I'm doing affirmative action. ~15 people have written me about Jr's old bike after I put it up on a free stuff web site. Now I'm contacting those with worst Swedish first.

More like this

Busy holidaying in Istanbul, but one quick reaction: it's fairly common that bits of an experiment or analysis is done by people not on the author list, or even from the same lab. If you change passive to "we" without checking each instance you may introduce a claim for credit that the authors never intended.

Good point! Context suggests that this is not the case with the paper I'm currently editing.

Yes I put tuna in the fridge too because cold tuna salad is better. The freezer, though?

I was talking with some people and Scandinavian warrior-women came up (as it does) and I remembered a discussion on here where graves with weapons may have been misinterpreted as female based on the gracile skeletons. The idea was that male scandies were more gracile than allowed for in sex determination. Do you remember anything about this, and is there any support for the idea that scandy men were more gracile?

I am not aware of even one well-preserved Scandy weapon inhumation* where osteologists insist that the skeleton is female. Scandy men are not particularly gracile, but the women's bones can become masculinised in old age. Tough old birds!

(* There's a considerable number of richly furnished jewellery burials with female skeletons and a single piece of weaponry, often placed away from the body or thrust into the subsoil. But not female skeletons bedecked with full war gear, like many male skeletons are. If a male skeleton were found with the amount of jewellery in such a grave, we would judge the guy to be completely girly. There's a difference between 100% strong male artefacts with a female skeleton, which we never see, and 90% strong female artefacts and 10% male artefacts with a female skeleton, which does occur.)

(OT) Tragedy in Chinese harbour as safety rules got ignored.
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Killers: I just watched the film "Seven Psychopats".
Just as Shaun of the Dead is a parody of zombie films and Hot Fuzz a parody of cop buddy films, Seven Psychopats is a very clever, funny parody of Tarantino-esque action films.
There is an extra surprise just as you think the film is over (but less peaceful than the end-of-film surprse in Solaris). Hint: The protagonist forgot about the mass muderer with the rabbit. The audience forgot about the mass muderer with the rabbit. But the mass muderer with the rabbit did not forget about himself.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 15 Aug 2015 #permalink

Oh! Also, I saw an interesting documentary last week on Indians in Colombia I think who have an existing tradition of pecking hollows in rocks, filling them with water, and dropping pebbles in them to divine some meaning from how the bubbles rise to the surface. Look just like cup marks.

Cool Colombian cupmarks! The Swedish ones are so shallow that bubbles can't really be seen rising in them before they reach the surface.

I just noticed that the Wikipedia article on chili pepper mentions an alleged find of chili pepper in Sweden in a pre-Columbian context. It cites: Hjelmqvist, Hakon. "Cayennepeppar från Lunds medeltid". Svensk Botanisk Tidskrift, vol 89. pp. 193–. Know anything about this?

By Bill Poser (not verified) on 15 Aug 2015 #permalink

I just know that Hjelmqvist and that journal are both reputable. I'll ask my buddy the paleobotanist.

Yeah, The City & The City was the first of his books I read and it nearly turned me off the rest of his writing.Thanks again for the interview!!

By Kylie Sturgess (not verified) on 16 Aug 2015 #permalink

On the question of women buried with weapons there is a thorough article by Leszek Gardeła from 2013 on the topic, which looks at about a dozen possible examples. It is available on his page.
On the natural scientists and the passive voice - when I have written papers with natural scientists they have said that the passive voice is deliberate, as the majority of the authors did not carry out the experiments, so to say "we dissolved" would be misleading.

By Nick Thorpe (not verified) on 16 Aug 2015 #permalink

Thanks Martin I knew you could set us straight.

an alleged find of chili pepper in Sweden in a pre-Columbian context

This is not completely implausible, since there was pre-Columbian contact between Scandinavians and indigenous North Americans. And some of the latter did have agriculture: the Cahokia culture of the Mississippi Valley for certain, and probably many of the peoples of the Atlantic coast (one of the factors that allowed the Pilgrims to survive was that they had the luck to settle on the site of a native farming village which had been abandoned due to an unknown plague a few years prior). Cayenne peppers would probably have been a rarity, since I don't think they can survive the winters in the parts of North America the Norsemen visited, but trade networks could have brought some into Scandinavian hands. I have heard claims of Viking artifacts from the Vinland era being found as far south as Maine (about the same latitude as Switzerland) and as far west as Hudson Bay.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 16 Aug 2015 #permalink

Cayenne peppers can be grown as annuals (and the seeds saved over winter) pretty far north.

when I have written papers with natural scientists they have said that the passive voice is deliberate, as the majority of the authors did not carry out the experiments, so to say “we dissolved” would be misleading

As a physical scientist, I can attest that there is some validity to this view, especially in large experimental groups--some of my publications have author lists extending to double figures, and without too much effort one can find papers with several thousand co-authors. Other times, I deal with shared facilities, and it is appropriate to use passive voice to describe what these facilities were designed to do since in many cases none of those designers will be co-authors on the paper. But I have also encountered editors (mostly older types--scientists my age and younger tend to be better about this) who have insisted on passive voice even when it is not appropriate. The particular paper where I encountered this problem was a theoretical/computational paper on which I was the first of three authors (the other two being my Ph.D. advisor--I was a student at the time the paper was submitted--and a close collaborator of his).

Martin's attitude toward passive voice reminds me of the person (possibly Winston Churchill) who, on being informed that one is not supposed to end English sentences with prepositions, allegedly said, "That is the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put."

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 16 Aug 2015 #permalink

Facebook took one good look at the pile of data about myself that I’ve supplied them with, and decided that I would definitely be interested in an ad in German for a gay bed & breakfast service. “Stay with people like yourself!”

This is one of the reasons I don't do Facebook, but it crops up in other places. For instance, the Chris Christie for President campaign has mistaken me for somebody who is likely to vote for Gov. Christie in the New Hampshire primary (which is still five or six months away--US Presidential campaigns are way too long). This one is made even more annoying by my spam filter, which has not let learned to regard all such e-mail as spam despite my diligent efforts to train it. (The Christie campaign probably got my e-mail address from my alleged congressional representative, the odious Frank Guinta, who has been spamming me since early 2010, when he was organizing his first campaign for the seat.) I also get e-mail encouraging me to submit papers to dubious journals and dubious conferences, many of which are not even closely related to work that I do. I think the spam filter has learned to recognize some of the dubious conference organizers, but it stumbles over new ones (because I also get e-mail from organizers of legitimate conferences in my field, which are not junk mail). And of course there are the traditional Nigerian-type scammers, who lately seem to have gotten religion (they frequently address me as "Dearly beloved in Christ").

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 16 Aug 2015 #permalink

"Bloggers ridicule Chinese film placing Mao Zedong at key wartime conference"…
Meh. It is standard operating procedure for respressive systems (including religions) to re-write history.
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"Cap on the number of people who go to heaven" -but if you join my Inclusivity Church, I will set up extra tickets with Saint Peter. Of course, he insists on a quite big service fee, so I must pass this cost on to the suc...the members who join. As an extra, members get a free pass from Limbo.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 17 Aug 2015 #permalink

I just watched the 2014 film "The Taking of Tiger Mountain" directed by HK director Tsui Hark, who also co-wrote the screenplay, based on a novel by the Shandong novelist Qu Bo. The film depicts PLA soldiers as all wonderful, brave, honourable guys; kind to villagers, protective of helpless women, nice to children, etc. Qu wrote a (naturally) wonderfully brave and noble imaginary part for himself in the book. This is set in the post-war era when the PLA were actually going through the process of dispossessing and burying most of my wife's male ancestors and their male relatives alive in mass graves, and turning the women out onto the streets wearing rags and penniless and forcing them to sweep up the dog shit around the village, all for committing the unforgivable crime of being land owners, i.e. farmers.

Seen from this distance, the total disconnect between reality and fantasy is both bizarre and hilarious.

By John Massey (not verified) on 17 Aug 2015 #permalink

Birger @17: The ghost of Martin Luther would like a word with you. So would the Vatican, which doesn't like the competition.

"The best way to make a million dollars is to found your own religion."--Attributed to L. Ron Hubbard, who subsequently did exactly that (he founded Scientology).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 17 Aug 2015 #permalink

Bill, I checked with paleobotanist Jens Heimdahl. His take on that find is that Hjelmquist was definitely capable of recognising a Capsicum seed, but he was not very good at communicating with archaeologists about find contexts, and the period's stratigraphical fieldwork methodology wasn't very well developed anyway. So Jens believes that the Capsicum seed Hjelmquist found was most likely post-Medieval in date.

Here is one of those semi-omnipotent beings that keep popping up at Star Trek. Note the definition of semi-omnipotence!
If he sets up a church, I would actually join. Or semi-join.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 18 Aug 2015 #permalink

That New Scientist article is pretty funny in several respects. It's well established that hunter-gatherer societies have/had high levels of violence.

And the data on gender among the victims are pretty telling - the only female remains found belonged to two 40 year old women. In other words, all of the other younger females were carried off, in what looks suspiciously like a raid for just that purpose.

"Popular image of peaceful harmony" - well, who is responsible for peddling that popular image? It is unlikely it was ever reality except in the minds of cultural anthropologists.

By John Massey (not verified) on 18 Aug 2015 #permalink

Neolithic people were like ISIS ....? We have come full circle.
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"Beheaded Syrian scholar refused to lead Isis to hidden Palmyra antiquities"…
Shit. I know it is not permitted to use hate speech on the site, but FUCK!!!!!!!
I want those bastard fuckers to go down hard. Preferably the way the Incas killed the priest who conned Atahualpa.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 19 Aug 2015 #permalink

ISIS probably will fall hard, eventually. Groups like that eventually do. But don't expect it to be fast or easy.

In some ways man never did leave the Neolithic age. AFAICT the biggest difference between ISIS and the Khmer Rouge is the former's religious overtones. The Khmer Rouge, who were in power less than 40 years ago, killed between 10-30% of Cambodia's population in a period of three years (for obvious reasons, precise figures are hard to come by). That's comparable to what Hitler and Stalin did.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 19 Aug 2015 #permalink

We need to send those geezers from Tianjin - they would fix them up pretty quick.

For the chemists among you, what the geniuses at Tianjin did was they stored 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, 500 tonnes of potassium nitrate, 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide, and 500 tonnes of metallic sodium and magnesium, all together on the same transhipment site.

In effect, what they did was build an enormous and highly toxic roman candle (a type of firework). It would be hard to design something that would explode as massively as that did, and spray sodium cyanide over a wide area.

Watch this space - if the directors of that company don't all get a bullet in the back of the head, they will be getting off lightly.

By John Massey (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

I suspect the error is systemic -when the long-term objective has been increased production at all costs, nominal safety rules tend to be thrown out the window. We see that in any number of enterprises, in any country.
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You know how the True King can be recognised by his ability to cure disease? The current Brit monarch also has powers.
"Queen can kill a man with one finger"… The Queen is a lethal human weapon trained by Shaolin monks, it has been confirmed.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

Anyone here with much experience of RPGs can join me and help me write a Holy Book so I can set up my own church in USA. John Oliver has started, and he does not even have a sacred scripture"Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Televangelists"
Dont buy food for your children! Send me the money instead, and the Lord will reward you!

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

John @28: And then they act surprised when that mixture produces an <voice="Marvin the Martian">Earth-shattering kaboom.</voice>

Unfortunately, I don't think that will work on ISIS. They have no need to stockpile such a quantity of explosives, because they use the explosives too quickly to build up such a stockpile.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

If you think it through, you can figure out a neat sequence of events, a fault tree, that matches exactly the observed event.

Some rainwater got into the metallic sodium, so it started to burn. The fire crews poured water on it, so it burned more fiercely. That went on for 40 minutes. By then, it had burned through the packaging separating it from the metallic magnesium. Water got into the magnesium and it exploded, with a big fireball. The magnesium exploding detonated the ammonium and potassium nitrates, resulting in a much bigger explosion, with lots of pretty sparks from the burning bits of magnesium.

And then they tested around the site, and found that the explosions had spread the sodium cyanide around.

All disasters of this kind are complex - someone needs to make more than one really stupid mistake. In this case, they made no shortage of really stupid mistakes, or else they were real chancers who just didn't care as long as the money was rolling in.

It doesn't say much for their regulatory system, though. Well, yes it does, it says that they don't have a regulatory system. Maybe they thought they had one, but they didn't. No regulator would permit that mix of chemicals to be stored on one site. As it was, they had 70 different chemicals stored on the site, so it could have been even much worse.

Tianjin is a beautiful city, and they really didn't deserve this.

By John Massey (not verified) on 22 Aug 2015 #permalink

It doesn’t say much for their regulatory system, though. Well, yes it does, it says that they don’t have a regulatory system. Maybe they thought they had one, but they didn’t.

A few greased palms would suffice to defeat whatever regulatory system was present. That was the experience of the Miami area after Hurricane Andrew: any building that was up to code should have been able to handle winds up to about 200 km/h, and only a small area around Homestead (far south Dade County) got winds that strong. But houses well north of that zone were obliterated. It turned out that builders were routinely bribing building inspectors, who were approving construction work, in some cases, by driving by the site. So there were houses with roofs not nailed on, or shoddy foundation work, or various other problems

I don't know if that happened in Tianjin. Maybe the regulations aren't as strict as they should be. However, there was a BBC report a couple of days or so after the incident that the license for storing chemicals at that warehouse had lapsed for some months earlier this year before being reissued. Of course the chemicals were still stored there during the period the license had supposedly lapsed. So maybe there was a safety inspector or two, unofficially on the company payroll, who approved the license renewal. Or maybe the regulations basically made license renewal a matter of doing the paperwork. These possibilities aren't mutually exclusive, either. Bribery and inadequate safety regulation are known issues in other aspects of PRC governance.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 22 Aug 2015 #permalink

I wonder if the Beautiful Pink Army are going to turn up again. I do hope so.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Aug 2015 #permalink

When the Japanese invaded China, instead of engaging them, Chiang Kai Shek withdrew his troops into the countryside and avoided them. He made the assumption that China would just swallow up the invaders like it always had before, and he was more worried about the Chinese Communist Party troops.

So volunteers fought the Japanese.

The Chinese national anthem, the March of the Volunteers, celebrates the civilians and militia who took up arms against the Japanese invaders and, ultimately, with help from China's allies, defeated them.

So on the 70th Anniversary, military personnel from those allied countries are invited to attend.

And we're getting a one-off public holiday on 3 September, to help celebrate.

Chiang Kai Shek is dead, but he wouldn't be welcome to attend in any case.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Aug 2015 #permalink

He made the assumption that China would just swallow up the invaders like it always had before

This is technically true, but IIRC at least one imperial dynasty was founded by the leader of one of those invading forces. It may not have mattered much to the peasants, especially the ones not near the theater of war, but the Emperor (or other person nominally in charge, which would have been Chiang at the time) is a much more appealing target. They can try to run and hide, as Chiang did, but that tends to cost them the Mandate of Heaven.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 23 Aug 2015 #permalink

At least three dynasties were founded by invaders, the Jin, Yuan and the Qing (if you go back too far things get really complicated, because the Han really are quite recent as a distinguishable unified group), but the point is that each time the invaders subsequently became culturally Chinese, intermarried and were swamped genetically.

But I think Chiang made a massive mistake in not defending the country and its common people against the Japanese - he preserved his troops to fight the Communists, but in abandoning the people he lost their support. As you say, it cost him the Mandate of Heaven.

My daughter is no lover of the Commies, but she spits on the name of Chiang Kai Shek.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Aug 2015 #permalink

According to wikipedia, after the war Chiang Kai Shek intervened on the behalf of the Japanese general who was the worst one -the one who had the idea of "comfort women", and who minted the slogan "Destroy everythinh, kill everything" for an offensive in China. Presumably CKS wanted him as a post-war adsvisor pending a conflict with the communists.
Taiwan was thoroughly looted by the nationalists after Japan surrendered, and the local political leaders were repressed or shot. CKS was an arsehole.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 24 Aug 2015 #permalink

I live to see all of them defeated.

By John Massey (not verified) on 24 Aug 2015 #permalink

Apparently, there have been significant finds at a mycenean-era palace at Sparta, ca1375 BC. I do not know more details.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Showing off: This letter to the editor was about how severe the "snowball Earth" superglaciations might have been.
“Editor’s pick: Less a snowball, more of a slushball”
(When competing for space with hundreds of clever letter-writing boffins, I permit myself a bit of pride)

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

Henceforth to be known as Slushball Johansson. Well done, Birger.

By John Massey (not verified) on 29 Aug 2015 #permalink

Re-dating the Shigir Idol from the Urals to 11,000 YBP makes it the oldest monumental wooden sculpture known.
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Also, if you are into battlefield arcaheology, you can do worse than track the traces left by the long-range desert group that operated in Egypt and Libya 1940-1943. The absence of reain has allowed all kinds of artefacts to be preserved as they were when thrown away 75 years ago.
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John, is the monsoon season calming down now? getting most of the rain in a relatively brief period must put a lot of strain on the infrastructure.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 31 Aug 2015 #permalink

getting most of the rain in a relatively brief period must put a lot of strain on the infrastructure.

Not if you plan for it.

Most parts of the world have significant seasonality to precipitation. This includes the Mediterranean, the Middle East, South and East Asia, much of Australia, and large parts of Africa and the Americas. Northwest Europe and northeast North America are among the exceptional places that get adequate year-round rainfall.

It can be a problem when you have overshoot, i.e., too much rain in a short period of time. But if you have the reservoirs and flood control dams to prevent it, you can make it less of a problem. Those facilities also help you when you have a year or two of not enough precipitation. But if you get several dry years in a row, as is currently the case in California, then you get into real trouble. Quite a few civilizations have met their demise as a result of prolonged drought, from the Maya to Petra to Angkor Wat. In China, that has been a leading cause of dynasties losing the Mandate of Heaven--historians have correlated several cases of dynasty changes with exceptional drought.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 31 Aug 2015 #permalink

I just watched the documentary "Age of the Drone"
An obvious application for a cheap drone -ca 250 USD- would be to take aerial photos at sunrise and sunset to spot subtle patterns of very small variations in the surface, made visible by the shadows.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 31 Aug 2015 #permalink

#50 - Not quite yet, Birger. We are still getting thunderstorms with heavy rain blowing up quickly with little warning, but I sense we are just about on the cusp, with the weather pattern starting to settle down - then we will have a couple of months of beautiful still dry sunny days and cooler nights before the cold dry NE monsoon really sets in. The best weather in HK is in October/November.

The difficulty is coping with the sheer intensity of rainfall, combined with the steepness of the topography. In my time in HK I have experienced falls of 180 mm in 1 hour, and more than 1 metre of rain in 24 hours. Designing surface drainage to cope with that sort of prolonged torrential downpour is really difficult, especially in a densely urbanised environment or on very steep topography. In the past, the difficulty was compounded by the way that engineers traditionally dealt with probability - they measured rainfall frequencies at the Hong Kong Observatory, which over a period of more than 100 years gave recurrence intervals for different intensities and different periods. What they didn't quite get is that HK has very high topographic relief, so in any rain storm you are likely to get a great deal of spatial variation in intensity - far more variation than anyone could believe until we established a dense network of rain gauges all over HK and began measuring it. This applies to rain from low pressure troughs and convection more so than from typhoons. To the surprise of a lot of people, low pressure troughs bring higher rainfall intensities than typhoons do.

It turns out that due to the great spatial variation in rainfall distribution, some part of HK gets a 1 in 100 year rainfall on average about once every 2 years, when measured against the rainfalls recorded at the Observatory. So designing a surface drainage system to cope with a 1 in 100 year rainfall means that the drainage system somewhere will be overwhelmed much more frequently than once every 100 years or so.

The combination of steep topography and very high rainfall intensity is lethal - run off is huge. I have seen people literally swept off their feet by water running down the street. In those conditions, surface drains become a joke - the water just jets straight out of them. I have deliberately gone out in conditions like that just so that I could observe what actually happens, and it's nightmarish - huge jets of water spurting from hillsides and running along roads metres deep. I drove through one such downpour, and the water on the road lifted my car up and it floated - I was kind of proud of my little car that it floated beautifully and kept running with its exhaust pipe submerged, while lamenting that it lacked a rudder - a forgivable oversight on the part of Nissan under the circumstances.

A lot of work has now been done, and is being done, to reduce the problems that come from this. Long drainage tunnels have been constructed that take in surface run off over large areas, and underground storage tanks have been built to take in and temporarily store flood water. We still get cases of flooding, but things are improving as the drainage infrastructure is progressively improved.

And when the rainfall intensity gets really bad, the Observatory gives (hopefully) an advance warning, and they close the schools and kindergartens, and everyone is told to stay home or stay where they are if they are in a safe place until the rain slackens off a bit. Weather radar has been a godsend in that respect.

By John Massey (not verified) on 31 Aug 2015 #permalink

The last time they held dragon boat races on the river next to where we live, a couple of guys had drones up filming the races. Hongkies have taken to drones like ducks to water. There have been a few mumbles from the usual suspects about needing legislation to control them (probably the same crew who wanted to ban electric cars because they would run over blind people) but most people are really not bothered by them.

By John Massey (not verified) on 31 Aug 2015 #permalink

What they didn’t quite get is that HK has very high topographic relief, so in any rain storm you are likely to get a great deal of spatial variation in intensity

There is a well-known phenomenon called orographic lift--basically, precipitation amounts are significantly higher on the windward slopes of mountains, and lower on the downwind side. This is how you go from rainforest to desert in the space of ~300 km (e.g., in Washington state). I'm not sure how this plays out in your area, as it depends on the size and horizontal extent of the mountains, but it would not surprise me if parts of Guangdong province to the immediate north of Hong Kong see significantly less precipitation than the Pearl River delta or Hong Kong itself. From maps I have seen that the rainiest parts of India are in the north, along the Himalayas.

Intense rainfall from systems associated with low pressure troughs is familiar to most people in the US, especially east of the Rocky Mountains. Monsoon rains aren't that common (mainly limited to Arizona, Florida, and the immediate Gulf coast), but there is lots of moisture in the Gulf of Mexico and northwestern Atlantic for storm systems to tap into. Some of those storms bring destructive winds, too--usually not hurricane/typhoon strength, but strong straight-line winds can occur, and sometimes you can get tornados, the strongest of which can bring winds of more than 300 km/h to an area 2 km or less in width.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 01 Sep 2015 #permalink

It is true that it wouldn't be completely insane if the capsicum seed had been found in a clear pre-Columbian context, but it would still be remarkable since as far as I know capsicum has not been found in North America anywhere near as far north as L'anse aux Meadows. the corn/squash/bean complex did get up into SE Canada, but capsicum is as far as I know restricted to the SW US.

By Bill Poser (not verified) on 01 Sep 2015 #permalink

@Bill: I don't know if they are native to the area, but peppers do grow here in Zone 5. I just had a couple (a sweet green bell pepper and a serrano) that I put in with a stir fry, which will feed me for another couple of days or so. I got the peppers at the weekly farmers market in my town, so I know exactly what municipality they were grown in (the next one west of me). Tomatoes are abundant as well.

Vinland is a much colder climate--without looking it up, I'm tempted to guess zone 3. So I don't think peppers and tomatoes survive that far north. But it wouldn't take much of a trade network for these plants to reach the lower Mississippi Valley. The question is whether this trade network existed--I know of no evidence either way. The existence of the Cahokia culture was a surprise to many--apparently some of their mounds, within the city limits of present-day St. Louis, were taken for railway fill before anybody thought to check for archaeological significance. The myth was that North America was empty, apart from a few "primitive" tribes, before European settlements. Of course the original settlers knew that wasn't true--they killed off most of the ones that didn't succumb to smallpox and other infectious diseases--but it was easy for later colonists to think so.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 01 Sep 2015 #permalink

#57 - The orographic effects happen when the warm, moisture laden SW monsoon hits HK, but the total area of HK is only 1,100 km2, and the terrain continues to be mountainous the other side of the border, so within HK the rain shadow effects are not discernible - the rainfall distribution pattern just shows that the highest intensities tend to occur on the highest ground, but otherwise there is no consistent pattern.

There are also convectional storms, where rainstorms just boil up out of nowhere, and which obscure any pattern due to orographic effects.

You are right, the monsoon rainstorms can be accompanied by very strong winds, and we have had tornadoes as a very rare occurrence.

A strong wind signal is often issued with the arrival of a new pulse of the NE monsoon also, which is a very strong, steady wind, but that is cold and dry, and just adds a wind chill factor, so that 12 degrees feels a lot colder. The NE monsoon is the thing I hate the most - that's when the skin on your hands and lips cracks, having become acclimatised to the warmth and very high humidity during the long summer, and finding somewhere to get out of the wind is virtually impossible.

Thunderstorms here are spectacular - the lightning activity is intense and can go on continuously for several hours. During the summer, HK is affected by lightning on an average of 22 days of every month. Almost miraculously, we only get an average of one person killed by lightning per year - usually someone on a golf course holding a long metal rod in his hand, so no real loss to the gene pool.

By John Massey (not verified) on 01 Sep 2015 #permalink

Twelve degrees, even with a stiff wind, doesn't sound all that cold to me. But I live in a place which sees winter temperatures as low as -20, and more importantly, buildings here are designed for it--any building that isn't explicitly meant for summer use only will have a central heating system of some kind. That may be rare in Hong Kong--I have heard that it is rare in Japan (except Hokkaido and the mountains of eastern Honshu) and Korea, which are quite a bit further north. And I have learned from experience that having a place to get out of the cold is a major factor in cold tolerance. I prefer -10 degrees here to 0 degrees in Florida, and -20 in Fairbanks (which is an average January day there) to either of the above. We have the opposite problem here: central air conditioning is rare, so anything above 30 degrees is uncomfortably warm for me, but I could probably tolerate it better with better access to air conditioning.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 02 Sep 2015 #permalink

Sure - a lot of people laugh when the temperature hits 12 here with a wind chill factor and the Observatory issues a Cold Weather Warning, but street sleepers and elderly people die in those conditions. Many buildings here, including all of the older buildings built in the 1990s or earlier have central air conditioning with chillers, but no heating. So indoors you have a choice of cold or very cold.

I'm having a cold war with my workmates - they keep setting the thermostats on the air conditioning to 15, which is insanely cold to try to work at a desk in, even in mid-summer. I keep jacking them back up to 25, which is just bearable for me.

Where you live, Eric, I would just curl up and die. I have lived in relatively hot places all my life, and I simply wouldn't be able to take it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Sep 2015 #permalink

they keep setting the thermostats on the air conditioning to 15, which is insanely cold

I've encountered this myself, in parts of the southern US. It is insane. To put that in perspective: there is a law in this state requiring landlords to provide rental units with heating systems that can maintain an average indoor temperature of at least 18 degrees, and if the landlord sets the thermostat, he must set it to at least 18 degrees during heating season (1 October to 30 April). Tenants can enforce this rule by withholding rent, if needed. And I have found that I can get used to that kind of indoor temperature.

I agree with you that 25 degrees is a reasonable thermostat setting for an air conditioned space that doesn't have special needs--I might go a degree or two lower, but not more, if I controlled the office thermostat. 20 might be reasonable in the room where you keep your Cray (we have one of those in the building where I work, and it needs air conditioning even in January in New England). Except for spaces that have a particular need for a colder temperature than that (basically refrigerated rooms, freezer rooms, and the like), there is no excuse for air conditioning to a temperature below 20 degrees--that's just a waste of electricity.

Likewise heating in winter. One year I lived with a roommate who insisted on heating the room to 25-26 degrees, rather than putting on sweaters. Low humidity is enough of a problem in heated indoor spaces around here--no need to make it worse by overheating the space. Worst of all are the airports that do this: people traveling in winter (i.e., the customers, from the airlines' point of view) generally wear clothes suitable for winter. I accept that 18 is a bit cool for many people, but the solution in that case is to layer up.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 02 Sep 2015 #permalink

The EPD here set indoor office temperature of 25 as a target for energy efficiency in buildings, but no one follows their advice. I find it perfectly comfortable, even in mid-summer.

I have read research that humans are most comfortable when the temperature of the air layer next to their skin is 26. That seems about right to me. The most comfortable place I have ever been climate-wise is the Pacific island of Saipan (site of the deaths of large numbers of US Marines during the Pacific War) (I once had the unfortunate experience of sitting next to an American guy on a plane - we started talking, and he asked me where my favourite place was, and I said Saipan - he kind of froze and informed me that his father was a Marine and had died on the beach in Saipan - the rest of the trip was icy and very uncomfortable, despite my abject apology), where the air temperature is 26 constantly around the clock. If you feel a bit too cool there, you just need to wade into the ocean, which is upwards of 28. But wear something on your feet - lethally toxic cone shells abound. Wearing shoes while swimming kind of spoils the experience, somehow. But I could live on Saipan in nothing but a pair of shorts, no problem.

Saipan recently got clobbered by a big typhoon, and a lot of buildings were flattened. I guess that was not so comfortable.

Yes, indoor heating does create an excessive dryness problem. I suffer that here, where the winter air is cold and very dry anyway, and heating my living space just makes the dryness problem worse. I am fully acclimatised to the very high humidity that exists in HK most of the year, so when the air suddenly gets very dry, my skin really feels uncomfortable. It's kind of ironic - I come from a very dry place which has very high annual solar radiation, but now I prefer swamp conditions - warm and wet.

I could live with 18 indoors, but I would need to wear a sweater, and maybe upper body underwear. But 15 is just insane, and in summer it's burning huge amounts of energy to maintain it.

Next winter my go-to place to ward off hypothermia is going to be the wet sauna at the gym. It does my skin and lungs no end of good. But I can't stay in there all the time, so now I have a secret weapon - I bought a German car with a heated driver's seat. The driver's seat is already so comfortable that I have been known to fall asleep in the car sitting in the car park. Once I start using the heater in the seat next winter, I could be spending lots of time sleeping in the car park.

By John Massey (not verified) on 02 Sep 2015 #permalink

We keep our heat pump's thermostat at 21 Celsius through the cold season. In the summer we just go with ambient. Our house has big south-facing windows, so often we have to vent accumulated heat in the evenings.

I could live with 18 indoors, but I would need to wear a sweater, and maybe upper body underwear.

That's what I do: I typically wear a t-shirt under a long-sleeved shirt. As well as two pairs of socks once the snow starts to fall (in part because my winter boots don't fit properly if I wear only one pair).

I may have mentioned before that I grew up in southern Florida, which has a similar climate to Hong Kong: hot and humid summers with monsoon-like thunderstorms (but not as hot as the interior South and Midwest--KMIA has never reported a temperature above 38 degrees), and a few months of cooler weather in winter (though with more variation than you see: occasionally as low as 0 degrees, but 25-27 can still happen in the afternoons). I moved to New England for university, and have adapted to this climate to such an extent that I would have a hard time going back to Florida.

You might try enlisting your female co-workers to help you in your crusade against excessive air conditioning. There was a story on the BBC News website last month about research showing that many women prefer warmer indoor temperatures, especially in summer--something about relative metabolic rates. I'm sure most of them would prefer your 25 degrees to your colleagues' 15 degrees.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Sep 2015 #permalink

That's a good point, now that you mention it; I don't take much notice, but all of the women in the office wear some kind of warm over-garment: cardigan, sweater, shawl or something, while most of the men are just in shirt sleeves. But Chinese women in HK all do that anyway - even on the hottest, most humid day you will see a lot of women in the street wearing a cardigan or other upper body over-garment. They have a mortal fear of solar radiation (probably sensibly) and cover up as much as possible when going out in the sun.

During summer I don't have the warm underwear option, otherwise I'd boil getting to the office. I've taken to doing what the women do and carrying a sweater in my bag which I put on after I get into the office and cool down from the trip to work. That trip is now less hot and steamy than it used to be because as of two months ago I'm now driving to work after 3 years of walking and using public transport, and I keep the temperature inside the car at a comfortable 26, but I still need to put something warm on after I get into the office. I did try cycling to work for a while and that was OK, but arriving dripping and taking a shower and changing clothes in the office was just too unwieldy and embarrassing, mostly just because no one else does it. It's a more feasible option in winter, but that means I am riding straight into the teeth of a stiff NE wind riding all the way home, which is not fun. Fitness-inducing, undoubtedly, but not fun.

By John Massey (not verified) on 04 Sep 2015 #permalink