February Pieces Of My Mind #1

Veneer inlay, Ewald Dahlskog, Stockholm's China Theatre. Veneer inlay, Ewald Dahlskog, Stockholm's China Theatre.
  • Me and Cecilia von Heijne have just submitted our paper on the coins from Skällvik Castle to a numismatic journal. Yay!
  • Current Swedish Archaeology has just published my enthusiastic review of Cecilia Ljung's doctoral thesis on 11th century burial monuments. Well done, Doctor!
  • Danish is such a badass language. It's got words like skaktavlkvadre -- note the VLKV sequence there -- and then you just pronounce everything like you're extremely drunk.
  • I demand that everyone in Sweden pronounce "Skälboö" as if it were an English word: SKALBOO.
  • I just accepted a nomination to the executive board of my municipal branch of the Labour Party. See, academia? This is what happens to people who feel expendable. They become radicalised!!!
  • I often have to tell people online that my pronouncements tend to be not just ironic, but nonsensical.
  • Reading a post-modernist book on Medieval castles from 2002. It's full of "redundant" scare quotes. *sigh*
  • In the past three days I've had job applications turned down by the Universities of Oslo and Helsinki. The Labour Party, on the other hand, has nominated me for in-party office and offered me a three-day prep course in Brussels.
  • Building foundations and a cast-iron pump in a clump of bushes is all that remains of the late-19th century market garden and summer cottages on Fisksätra Islet. The last structures were demolished around 1970.
  • Had a massive reality check about my musical taste. I've assumed that the songs my streaming music service suggests are a tailored individual selection based on the hundreds of songs and bands I've ticked as my favourites. Until tonight, when I had dinner with friends at the Liffey Irish Pub in Stockholm's Old Town. Every single song played on the speaker system was one of my favourites. Turns out that you can pretty reliably hit my musical sweet spot by just clicking the Generic Upmarket Fake Irish Pub Soundtrack playlist!
  • Went skating on the lake in the moonlight with my wife.
  • 14th century bishop Henry Burghersh, a.k.a. The Drunk Fast-food Bishop.
  • Musical: The Book of Mormon at Stockholm's China Theatre. Grade: highly recommended!
Woah. I'm feeling kind of queasy. The entire topography of Lilla Sylta hamlet has been altered. I excavated here 15 years ago. Now I can't find my way around the place. Woah. I'm feeling kind of queasy. The entire topography of Lilla Sylta hamlet has been altered. I excavated here 15 years ago. Now I can't find my way around the place.

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The entire topography of Lilla Sylta hamlet has been altered.

I infer from this remark that the motorway in the photograph was built sometime in the last 15 years. Possibly there was some relationship between your excavation contract and the motorway construction.

You have to move a fair amount of dirt when building a road, especially when grade separations are involved. Excavate it (or blast it, depending on the terrain) in one place, use it as fill in some other place.

An active highway construction project near me involves expanding a motorway from two lanes each direction to four. The topography of Newington has been noticeably altered in the course of this project. In one case an underpass has been converted to an overpass.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Feb 2017 #permalink

The fastest street-legal car in the world is the Bugatti Chiron. It will accelerate from 0 to 100 kph in 2.3 seconds. No use to me - my daughter Spike nearly blacks out when I floor my VW GTI. In the time it takes for the GTI to hit 100 kph, the Chiron will have hit 200 kph. Not too much use in an area where the fastest highway has a max. speed limit of 80 kph (so no one is going faster than about 120 kph, except for the truck drivers and public double-decker buses), even if I had the spare US$2.7 million to put down on a Bugatti.

I've been using this to catch up on all the mediæval art appreciation classes that I missed out on while wasting my time studying all that STEM stuff. It's all pretty much what I imagined, though.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 11 Feb 2017 #permalink

Meanwhile, Australia has just become uninhabitable. While the eastern side is suffering from the worst heat wave on record, the southwest is drowning in floods.

In South Australia (capital Adelaide) they have invested heavily in alternative energy. Well, that's cool, that makes sense - Australia gets more solar radiation than any other continent, so it makes perfect sense to invest in solar power. Now that clever South African migrant to the USA Elon Musk has invented really nice, decorative, robust, long lasting roof tiles that act as solar collectors, and a battery big enough that can fit inside your home to store all the solar energy you are collecting, enough to power everything in your own house plus charge up your electric car, which he also invented, you can be totally independent of the power companies and the oil companies. OK, it needs a bit of up-front capital investment, but from then on you are running everything you need to run on free, silent, totally clean solar energy, which never runs out. That guy deserves the Nobel Prize.

But no - wait - the South Australians have invested mostly in wind farms, not solar, with no way to store the surplus energy generated by the wind turbines, and when it gets really hot is when the wind doesn't blow. So the power grid gets overloaded and the whole thing goes down. So exactly when you need to air conditioning to work in homes, schools, offices, hospitals, everywhere, because the temperature in the shade is hitting 40+ Celsius with high humidity, day after day after relentless day, it doesn't work, because there is no electricity to run it. So the wind turbines stand by as motionless giant silent witnesses while everyone gradually dies from heat stroke.

And there's no emergency gas-fired power plant to power up to provide emergency extra power, because fossil fuel powered plants are so not cool compared to those miles and miles of wind farms.

You would think someone should have thought this through. Well, they tried - there is supposed to be a power sharing arrangement between States, so that when one State is really copping bad weather, they can borrow some energy from the other States. But when the whole east side is suffering a massive widespread heat wave, no State is willing to share their energy because they all need it for themselves - and none of them have enough for their own needs. So the electricity supply over the whole east side goes down.

Because southern Australia is not the North Sea, so what might make sense in Germany is totally unintuitive in Australia, where almost the whole country is currently roasting in solar radiation, but unable to harness any of it to stay cool enough to stay alive, let alone function. Because Elon Musk chose to migrate to the USA instead of Australia, the bastard, and no one in Australia has a functioning brain. Not any more. They did in the 1920s, but not any more.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 11 Feb 2017 #permalink

Here in Sweden we have massive energy demands for heating precisely at the time of year when we hardly see the sun. We solve this problem mainly by storing meltwater in power dams and by importing uranium.

In that regard, Australia is blessed in terms of natural energy resources, or should be. Solar radiation is huge during summer, and even pretty high during winter - if the winter solar radiation is not enough to provide stored energy to drive everything, then winter is also the time of maximum winds, so a complementary balanced system is perfectly feasible, utilising solar in summer and wind energy in winter, with storage of surplus energy for use at times of maximum demand, maybe utilising pumped storage hydro schemes, which are perfectly feasible.

But of course, that is not what they have done.

Yeah, a country like Sweden presents a much more difficult problem. For a country like Australia, there really should be no excuse - and yet, per capita, Australians have the biggest carbon footprints in the world. It should be a national disgrace, but whenever I say that to any of my countrymen, I just get frowned at for being 'un-Australian'. It's not that Australians don't care about climate change - a majority of them clearly do, but they simply don't understand what it is I am saying to them, and any criticism of the country is taken as a personal insult and evidence of lack of sufficient nationalistic fervour. It's disheartening. I have pretty well given up on trying to explain the obvious to them, because it just elicits a defensive-aggressive response.

Meanwhile, they continue to beaver away on a massive scale at mining coal and gas to sell cheaply to other countries. You are not allowed to criticise that either.

Nuclear power in Australia - no, no chance. It will never happen. Public opposition to it is massive. And in truth, there is no need for it there. They will happily mine uranium to sell to India, but use it in Australia? No.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 11 Feb 2017 #permalink

Prices for solar and wind-generated electricity are falling steadily, too, and are approaching the prices for conventional fossil fuel generated electricity, even without including externalities like carbon footprint in the pricing.

There is a good reason that the US isn't building nuclear power capacity and hasn't for many years. The way we do it, it's much too expensive, and with the price of solar and wind power falling we are reaching the point where even the lower carbon footprint compared to conventional sources is not enough to offset the added cost for nuclear power. It doesn't help that US nuclear plants are always custom-built, and it also doesn't help that the siting of the waste disposal facility was a political FUBAR (when the legislation selecting the site is colloquially known as the Screw Nevada Act, don't be surprised if Nevada residents feel they have been screwed).

In much of the US, demand for electricity is higher in summer than in winter. Air conditioning is much more widespread than in most other countries, and in most of the country the default method for heating is a fuel-powered furnace. So in much of the country solar power should work quite well. You wouldn't want it to be your exclusive power source in snow country, where the white stuff might cover your roof panels, but a large fraction of the US population lives in places where snow is rare to nonexistent.

There is a deal available in my area where, if you have solar panels on your roof, you can sell your excess power to the electricity provider in the summer months, which partially offsets your costs in the winter when the solar panels don't generate enough to meet your needs. But in other parts of the US there are stupid state laws which actively discourage individual homeowners from installing solar panels.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 11 Feb 2017 #permalink

I did see some solar power panels in South Australia when I was down there, but the big thing i noticed was towns where every house had a cistern out back, presumably connected to catch roof run off. Oh yeah, that and the potato quarantine area signs on route to Victoria.

My point was not that South Australians have not invested anything in solar - they obviously have, along with every other Australian state and territory; my point is that, so far, they have missed the golden opportunity they have to develop solar and wind power in tandem in a balanced system, such that when they are not getting much energy supply out of one, they are getting maximum supply out of the other, and vice versa. Plus they have missed the essential third leg of the stool, in that they have not developed any way of storing surplus energy, to cater for periods when they get a massive surge in demand, such as has occurred during the current heat wave. This is actually becoming an annual event in the capital city Adelaide, but they have not yet figured out what is to me a rather obvious solution. The solution they did come up with, power sharing between the states, has now very obviously not worked at all; so they know they need to find a structural solution; otherwise this is just going to keep happening, and getting worse with time.

The whole of southern Australia is on a prolonged heating and drying trend, and clearly has been since at least the 1970s. South Australia in particular, but also to a lesser extent Western Australia, is becoming critically short of water. This is particularly worrying in Adelaide. In Western Australia they are busily building power-hungry seawater desalination plants as the only available solution. This trend is projected to continue, so these problems are not going to magically solve themselves; they are going to continue to get worse. So the sooner some genuinely smart people get down to solving them the better. I don't see any real sign of that happening yet.

So, you are right - in those towns in South Australia that you saw, every house has a tank that collects and stores rainwater that runs off the roof, to supplement the mains water supply.

In the first house I ever lived in after I was born in rural Western Australia, we had no mains water supply at all (and no electricity or gas supply either; my father cut up dead trees in the surrounding forest to fuel the kitchen stove, and we used kerosene lanterns for light at night, but I diverge - we survived). We had a single rainwater tank storing run off from the roof, and we had to survive on that single tank of water all year round. This is not ideal - birds shit on the roofs of houses, and bird shit can carry some genuinely nasty stuff. I don't know how much diluted bird shit I consumed in the early part of my life, but it must have been non-zero. Didn't seem to do me any harm, at least not so far, but then my mother would have boiled any water before she gave it to me to drink, which would have taken care of viruses, if not other possible nasties. And sometimes adverse effects from things can take a long time to manifest. I'll never know.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 12 Feb 2017 #permalink

my mother would have boiled any water before she gave it to me to drink, which would have taken care of viruses, if not other possible nasties

Boiling the water takes care of viruses and bacteria. That's why the Chinese and Arabs developed the custom of drinking tea and coffee, respectively. The other option available in low-tech societies for water treatment is adding a small amount of alcohol, whence the Western custom of drinking beer and wine.

If you have toxic substances in the water, boiling it won't help you. But that scenario was rare in pre-industiral societies.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 12 Feb 2017 #permalink

Galvanised steel roof and downpipes, so no obvious toxic sources.

The closest we came to not surviving - after a long hot dry spell of weather, bushfires (wildfires) are a major hazard in rural Australia (and currently wiping out whole townships in New South Wales).

The house we lived in was a small timber house fronting a narrow unsealed road, surrounded on the other three sides by dense forest. A fire started and was advancing on our house. My mother, my sister and I evacuated the house, which was so filled with smoke that breathing in there was impossible, and were standing in the middle of this narrow road (futile if the fire got that far - a fire in a eucalypt forest will easily jump across a road that narrow). My father was standing on the roof of the house armed with a wet sack, rushing around putting out burning embers as they landed on the roof, but he was clearly fighting a losing battle.

And then the cavalry arrived - all of the dairy farmers in the district, some of whom had driven a long way to get to us, arrived in trucks with water tanks and hand pumps, and wet sacks, and they fought the fire to keep it away from the house. They kept it at bay long enough for the wind direction to change, then the fire burned back on itself and burned out. It was a close call.

I have always found it hard to be very fond of dairy farmers - cows need to be milked every single day, twice a day, so they tend not to get off the farm or socialise too much, and are generally not too friendly or personable. But I was very glad to see this small army of guys arrive that day. They saved us from being burned alive, literally. Once they were satisfied we were safe, they just all climbed back into their trucks and left again, most without even bothering to speak to us. They figured they owed my father for teaching their kids, plus if we expired and the little schoolhouse burned down, there would be nowhere for their kids to go to school, but that didn't mean they had to be friendly.

But then we had to reoccupy the house, whereupon we found that all of the snakes from the bush (plus lizards, insects, etc.) had taken refuge inside the house. So then my father had to find and get rid of all of the venomous snakes out of the house, while my mother had a fit of hysterics.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 13 Feb 2017 #permalink

Ewald Dahlskog! I just spent a weekend rehearsing in a conference hall at Häringe Castle south of Stockholm that has an absolutely massive veneer inlay screen (or rather wall!) that he made in 1934 for the board room of the Swedish Tobacco Monopoly.

Sadly I didn't take any pictures, but I did spend a good bit of time just admiring the amazing handiwork and beauty of the piece.

40 years ago, you could not be expected to foresee what battery technology would be today, or will be soon, Birger.

What governments, politicians and power companies in Australia lack the foresight, incentive and competence to do, individual home owners have started to do for themselves. Good to see.

That is the answer of course - individuals need to take control of their own future, aided by visionaries like Musk who have the financial resources to develop new technologies as private initiatives. If people wait for elected governments to lead the way, it will never happen.

By Asparagus (not verified) on 13 Feb 2017 #permalink