December Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Wearing my early-90s Tolkien Society outfit for tonight's Viking yule feast with the students. Been so long since I wore it that I'd forgotten where I'd put it. It was neatly stacked in the back corner of my closet's top shelf.
  • I'm slow on the uptake. It took me long to realise that the subway gets me through town faster than does the airport bus. It took me even longer to realise that this is somehow true in both directions.
  • Prepping students' yuletide Viking feast is exactly like at a Tolkien Society event c. 1990!
  • No more teaching this year. Only one lecture left in January, then a spring term of extramural research. Wonder where I'll work a year from now.
  • This historian I'm listening to is driving me nuts. Speaking really fast, making constant unexplained allusions and going off on nested tangents without bothering to even finish the sentence. Scatterbrain.
  • Kids have great musical taste. Look at them flocking to gigs with Adele Adkins and Ed Sheeran!
  • Jrette graduating for Yellow One in Choy Lee Fut's style of kung fu.
  • Stargazing. Now I know that the bright star on the line between Cassiopeia and the Pleiades is Algol in Perseus.
  • Could someone please write a scifi novel where there's a functioning tokamak on top of a nunatak?
  • Between the Pleiades and Orion is Aldebaran in Taurus.
  • I saw four Geminids in just a short while!
  • 14 Dec: Two years today since Chang'e 3 and the Yutu rover landed on the Moon. The rover stopped responding back in March. I believe the lander may still be communicating, but the Chinese space programme isn't very interested in outreach, particularly not regarding stuff failing.
  • Must ask students to write the photo captions during next year's excavations. This is boring.
  • I like scifi written by authors of either gender, so I eagerly bought the "Women Are Destroying Science Fiction" ebook bundle, whose name is of course a joke on misogynists. Sadly it turned out to be compiled by someone who likes their scifi stupid and naïve.
  • Movie: Taxi Teheran. Dissident director takes on the role of an amateur taxi driver and says some pretty hard-hitting yet humourous things about Iranian politics through his passengers. Grade: Pass.
  • Mixed feelings. Several high-profile research projects in Swedish archaeology have received major funding in the past year or so. They all deal in solidly empirical archaeology with interesting questions and methods, without a lot of gratuitous philosophy. They all employ really good people whose work I admire. All this makes me happy. My discipline is going in exactly the right direction. But I’m not on one of these projects. This makes me sad.
  • I've been seeing this Astrid Lindgren quote around Facebook where she says that when people in power stop listening to the people, then it's time to put new people in power. Felt pretty good at first. Then I realised that it might as well be a Tea Party talking point.
  • Annoying how slow an academic career moves. I'd like to learn about my opportunities, victories and defeats weekly, not quarterly.
  • People are circulating this picture of a serial rapist & former policeman crying when he learns that he's been sentenced to many years in jail. And they're making gloating comments. I feel only sympathy when I see that pic. I would feel the same sympathy if I saw his victims crying.
  • This is so funny. The advertising business organization IAB has announced that their member companies will "crack down on ad blocker plugins". The wording of their statement is what you'd expect if this were the police talking about home cannabis plantations or drunk driving. Dear IAB, your failed business model is not my problem!

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"Stargazing. Now I know that the bright star on the line between Cassiopeia and the Pleiades is Algol in Perseus."

Algol is an interesting star. In mythologies it is connected with various bad deities, because its brightness is variable even for naked eye. Technically it is an eclipsing binary, whose light curve dips every time one of the components passes in front of the other.
A new study just released shows that already ancient Egyptians knew about the periodicity of Algol. For them the period was 2.85 days, but today it is 2.867 days. The difference is probably due to mass transfer between the components.

By Lassi Hippeläinen (not verified) on 21 Dec 2015 #permalink

Then I realised that it might as well be a Tea Party talking point.

The context is sufficiently vague that it could be either an Occupy talking point or a Tea Party talking point. It all depends on your definition of "people". But If I had to bet, I would say that Tea Party is more likely. That group has a history of altering definitions of English words, e.g., "conservative" By the dictionary definition, a conservative view should be closer to my actual views than to the US politicians who claim to be conservative. Indeed, a few months ago I met a Norwegian who is active in that country's Conservative Party. He reported that Bernie Sanders would be considered a mainstream member of his party (in the US, he's considered extreme left).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 21 Dec 2015 #permalink

Good luck with stargazing! Do you have to travel far to find a site with low "light pollution"? Having a site (and clear weather) where you can see the Milky Way band with your unassisted eyeballs is a great feeling!
A thermos flask and sandwiches is a good optional extra.
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Regarding "extreme"
Swedish-language article
A group of xenophobes who were too extreme for our Tea Party wannabees in Sverigedemokraterna are hoping to create a movement analogous to the extreme party in Hungary... Ugly.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 22 Dec 2015 #permalink

I could probably get pretty low light pollution somewhere in the Erstavik woods a few clicks from Schloss Rundkvist. But to see the Milky Way I'd have to go all the way out to central Södertörn.

Exile-Iranian film: "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night".
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"a functioning tokamak on top of a nunatak?"

The closest I can find is a tokamak-powered vehicle driven across the surface of one of the moons of the outer solar system during a rescue mission (at the beginning of Stanislaw Lem's "Fiasco").
-If you gave me funding, I would build a geothermal plant on a mountain overlooking a glacier in Iceland or Jan Mayen. Cheaper than a tokamak, but I might still need one for the fast neutrons. Plutonium-breeding stuff is bloody expensive.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 22 Dec 2015 #permalink

I'm lucky if see any stars at all. Far too much ambient light, and overcast sky more often than not.

If I go to my late mother's place and just lie on my back on the front lawn, I can see for miles and miles and miles...I had a very powerful pair of binoculars (which I have mislaid somewhere - which means, given the amount we have been moving around, irretrievably lost or stolen) which my father bought for me second hand for getting good matriculation results, and it was amazing how much more I could see through those.

If I drive to the middle of the Nullabor (not so hard these days, like about 24 hours unadventurous driving or something) and lie on my back on the roof of my car, the night sky is just overwhelming.

Where I live, at precisely 4.30 am every day of the year, it suddenly becomes, not as bright as daylight because that's very bright, but it suddenly becomes extremely bright - bright enough to perform ordinary tasks without switching on a light. That's because my bedroom window is directly across a river from one of the world's most famous horse racing tracks, and at 4.30 am they turn on all the floodlights to take the horses out to exercise. They do track gallops, run trials and such. It's interesting to watch for about 25 seconds.

I thought those lights coming on would bother me, but they don't generally. Occasionally I will wake up when they come on, but mostly I don't.

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

"But to see the Milky Way I’d have to go all the way out to central Södertörn."

But only in the winter. In Swedish, the Milky Way is called Vintergatan, winter street. Why? It's brighter in the summer, right? Yes, but, and I just have to quote Roger Ebert here: "In a Swedish summer, night is a finger drawn by twilight between one day and the next". Even south of the arctic circle, Swedish nights are not dark, so the Milky Way is less visible than in a dark winter night.

The quote is from Roger Ebert's review of Ingmar Bergman's film Persona. It is a wonderful piece of writing, almost as good as the film itself, which is saying a lot.

His review of The Seventh Seal is another great review of a great film, where he also puts this film in the context of Bergman's other films. I sometimes agree with other reviewers more than with the late Ebert, but on Bergman we see eye to eye.

I've spent about a year in Sweden, distributed over the last 30 years. It used to be a different country, and Bergman was a part of that. There are still many things I like about it, but somehow the magic has gone.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 22 Dec 2015 #permalink

“In a Swedish summer, night is a finger drawn by twilight between one day and the next”

I tell my friends who want to go aurora watching (whether in Alaska, Iceland, or Scandinavia) to go in the half of September around the new moon. They get dark enough skies to see aurora (especially without the full moon, which is quite bright) and mild enough weather that they don't have to bring the parkas and heavy boots.

I know people who have been to Svalbard because it's the only inhabited place in the world where you can see aurora at noon (for a period of about six weeks around winter solstice). There are scientific reasons for observing aurora near noon: the interaction of the solar wind and the Earth's magnetic field create cusps in each hemisphere, where the solar wind has direct access to the Earth's surface (everywhere else in the auroral zone, the effects of the solar wind are indirect).

I have not been there myself; most of my aurora watching has been from Alaska in the winter (there's a university in Fairbanks, which helps with the logistics). Interior Alaska can be quite chilly in winter; I have personally experienced temperatures as low as -50 degrees. At those temperatures, gasoline and diesel fuel can turn to slush if you don't use a special blend designed for such temperatures. You can also find that your car engine overheats because the timing belt (which in many cars is connected to the coolant pumps) becomes brittle and falls off. This is why we normally traveled between the observing site and town in convoys, and one of the reasons why Alaska state law requires you to offer assistance to motorists who have pulled off the road.

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

#10 - I imagine my sister and I were typical - by the time she was 5 and I was 3, we had figured out that Santa Claus was just a load of adult-manufactured bullshit, but we made an agreement not to let on that we knew, in case that would mean they would stop giving us cheap shoddy junk toys and lollies at Christmas. We got little enough as it was - we didn't want to do anything to encourage the supply to dry up completely, so we went along with the subterfuge for several more years until it became abundantly obvious to our parents that we were stringing them along, not vice versa.

I imagine that most children in the normal range of intelligence go through a similar process. So the whole thing is just a tawdry and tedious waste of time.

#9 - It was common practice to carry spare belts in rural and hotter parts of Oz, where the heat caused a high wastage rate on belts, and the loss of a fan belt meant you were not going to be going anywhere unless you had a spare you could fit immediately.

On balance, though, I have to say that driving in extreme cold environments must be orders of magnitude more difficult than in extremely hot and dry environments.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Dec 2015 #permalink

There's no law as such, but there's an unwritten code in Australia that you will stop and assist drivers who are in difficulty in remote areas.

By John Massey (not verified) on 25 Dec 2015 #permalink

"And no such accommodation has even been attempted in relation to the Chinese women who were similarly dealt with"
The japanese general who invented the idea of "Comfort women" was even saved by Chiang-Kai-Chek instead of getting the rope....
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NOOO! "Lemmy, lead singer of Motörhead, dies at 70"…

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 29 Dec 2015 #permalink

Any Swedes currently in Umeå: Tuesday and Wednesday Åkerbloms bookstore has a super-sale, you get charged per weight! (3.95 per hekto).
One of the titles is "The Viking Experience". Plus another big coffee-table book, this one about archaeology. Just thought I should forward the info.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 29 Dec 2015 #permalink

More Christians Wishing Violence and Death on Mikey Weinstein (another skeptic)…
As hate mail, it has disappointingly few spelling errors. But “Meet Jesus as he sends you to hell”?. Yes, everyone knows Jesus is famous for being a gangsta enforcer. Maybe he is writing about some Hispanic hitman with “Jesus” as first name? (vision of Jesus driving around in a hotted-up muscle car in Southern California, playing salsa music on the radio)

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 29 Dec 2015 #permalink

Yes, it is horrible that Mr Williams has showed how the Syrians are doing, as it implies that we are selfish bastards denying entrance to refugees just because we happen to act like selfish bastards denying entrance to refugees...

Films (anime) for kids that are not so interested in exloding stuff.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind [DVD]…
Princess Mononoke [DVD]…

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 01 Jan 2016 #permalink

Erratum: It should of course be "REDRUM". "Marder" is the German name for a small mustelid predator.
"Murder" viewed through a mirror is when Jack Nicholson goes full Predator.
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Alternative horror film reference*:
Me (talking on a telephone): "Remember, when you officially open the rerfugee center, you must under *no circumstances* say "candyman" three times."
Politician: " Candyman? Handyman?"
Me : "No, candyman."
Politician: " Candyman? Why can't I say 'candyman'?"

* Clive Barker is not in the same league as Lovecraft, BTW. Buy a book by Charles Stross instead.

By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 03 Jan 2016 #permalink

Redrum was also a prize winning racehorse. And the source of a couple of my past hangovers.

In the Dominican Republic they make a wide spectrum of rums, all the way up to 'black label' rum which is pretty fine stuff, but with much less flavour than the English rum Pussers.. They also make rum that they sell for US$1 per bottle. People who can't afford food live on rum - it keeps them alive...for a while.

By John Massey (not verified) on 03 Jan 2016 #permalink

Irish DNA originated in Middle East and eastern Europe

Confirming something that linguistic clues have long hinted at. The ancient Greeks were acquainted with various tribes known as keltoi (whence the term "Celtic"). There is also the similarity of the country names Eirann (Ireland) and Iran, both of which are derived from "Aryan".

I don't know what happened to the eastern keltoi: whether they were slaughtered or absorbed into other tribes in the region (Germanic, Slavic, or other), or driven elsewhere by incoming migrants. The Western Celts survived the expansion of the Roman and, later, Germanic empires, though they were pushed into pockets of Iberia and France as well as the British Isles.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 04 Jan 2016 #permalink

But Celts are not identifiable as a group genetically, only linguistically. There were no Celtic people as such.

By John Massey (not verified) on 05 Jan 2016 #permalink

Sound like this year it's Scandinavia's turn to get what we had in eastern North America last year: unusual (compared to the last 20 years, but not historically) levels of cold, which may or may not come with unusually heavy snowfall.

This year, we've had one significant snowfall so far this season (~15 cm). Freeze-thaw cycles since then have turned that snow into an icy mess. Sunday's forecast calls for a high of +10 and as much as 35 mm of rain, which should melt off most of that snow--I hope so, because anything left would definitely be ice.

I don't mind the snow so much, and as long as I have a place to get away from it, the cold isn't so bad either (our coldest nights last year were around -25). Ice is another matter entirely.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 08 Jan 2016 #permalink