August Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • 14 August marked 200 years of unbroken peace for Sweden. Eight generations. Most of us don't even remember the name of the latest ancestor of ours who survived a war.
  • Other people get moments of déjà vu. I get moments of dissociation, when Martin Rundkvist seems not to be me.
  • Neat serendipitous combination of podcasts. I listened to Norm Sherman's excellent reading of Lovecraft's "The Colour Out Of Space" on the Drabblecast. It's about a family killed slowly and horrifically by emanations from a meteorite that hits the ground near their farm. Then Planetary Radio came on with the words "The search for extraterrestrial polluters?"
  • I flip through a 2010 book and find an entire page devoted to criticising stuff I published in 2003. The guy hasn’t told me. I won’t respond, because I haven’t been active in that particular field of study for the past five years. His critique looks like it’s at least partly quite warranted.
  • Is there a way for EU citizens to take part actively somehow in ESA's work? Not just watch it? Is there any space science advocacy going on to influence the European Parliament?
  • Since I work for the Linnaeus University, I was unhappy to learn that a lecturer there has been found guilty of gross plagiarism, having copied at least 15% of a paper he published verbatim from a book. The news outlets haven't disclosed his name, but this seems to be the guy. He's at the Dept of Social Work, not the Dept of Cultural Sciences where archaeology is taught.
  • Annoyance / OCD rage: finding three opened jars of lingonberry jam in the fridge. Bliss: combining their contents in one jar.
  • Ashtanga yoga, from English, "ass tango".
  • Oh. Those three lectures I gave last September without really having any script? There are eight of them this year.
  • Greg Bear's 1987 scifi novel Forge of God is set in 1996. In chapter 7 a journalist spends 22 hours in his hotel room combing "specialist bulletin boards" for news about visiting aliens. He uses his laptop and modem, and it costs him $300, or in 2014 currency, $455.
  • Greg Bear! Quit telling me again and again that every character in the novel is wearing slacks!
  • Pat Boone used to have big hits with Little Richard covers. O_o
  • The proofing errors in this e-book of an 80s novel show that the text has been scanned from a paper copy and OCRed. E.g. hp for lip.
  • E-books are great. Forgot who that minor character is? Search for his name. Wonder what that unfamiliar thing mentioned looks like? Google it on your reader.
  • My dad's neighbour, with whom he's been feuding for years over building permits, is taking pictures of the preparations for my daughter's outdoor birthday party.
  • Yes! For a year now I've been running Linux Mint on my laptop, and it's interacted really poorly with the wifi hardware and the trackpad. I've had to stick extremely close to any wifi router in order to get a connection. With three months of teaching and travelling at hand, I finally installed the latest Ubuntu Linux instead, and the glitches are gone!
  • Local paper asks 22-y-o what party they will vote for, then why that particular party. "My parents and everybody I know vote for that party, so it's an obvious choice". *facepalm*
  • Portishead, "It could be sweet like a long-forgotten dream" makes no sense. Please re-record the song and sing "It could be sweet like a well-remembered dream which was very sweet". Or ”non-forgotten dream”.
  • Jrette is mainly familiar with music cassettes as iPhone shells.
  • Been called to my 2nd UK job interview and test lecture ever. This time it's over Skype. I suppose this is mainly to check whether I speak any English.
  • I'm writing a disco tune about railway gauges. It's called "Yessir, I Can Bogie".
  • Hardcore work efficiency: do not leave house, wear only bathrobe.
  • This coconut sherbet tastes like suntan lotion with oatmeal.
  • Wife: Hmm, I wonder where I should put my camellia. Me: I wonder where I should plant my proud massive fir-tree. Wife: *sigh*
  • There's a place near Växjö called Rudebro. It's not at all as nice as the nearby village of Dudebro.
  • Whuh!? Gary Gygax was a Jehova's Witness! No joke!
  • Suddenly remembered Yalu, this 70s wargame that my old buddy bought used at a gaming convention when we were boys. We never played it. Now I find that Boardgamegeek's users judge that there are about one thousand wargames and four thousand other tabletop games that are better than Yalu. So I guess I didn't miss much.

More like this

The 22-year old selection method is quite rational and reasonable. We rely on our friends and relatives to short-circuit all kinds of choices. We trust these peoples judgements; that's why they are friends and (speaking) relatives in the first place.

If you are really interested in mobile tech you can easily spend a month diving into the mobile market place and decide on Apple vs. Android; small or big phone; waterproof, selfie-camera or bendable; what provider, what plan, or perhaps you really need a tablet instead and keep your regular phone for a while longer. Or, you check with your friends and relatives, and go with whatever they seem to recommend.

If you're not particularily interested or invested in politics as an interest, then it makes sense to do the same for your vote. You can spend the next month taking in all the incessant political information. But if you're fundamentally not that interested then why bother? Your single vote will not make a pivotal difference, and after all that careful analysis you're fairly likely to end up voting much the same as your friends and relatives anyhow.

Speaking of war: September 1st is the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Poland.
This reminds me of a Swedish play 19 years ago: "En Afton På Zeke's" (Arne Anka gets his first beer on the house since it is fifty years since Hitler shot himself)
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. "My dad’s neighbour, with whom he’s been feuding for years over building permits, is taking pictures of the preparations for my daughter’s outdoor birthday party."

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 01 Sep 2014 #permalink

@Janne: I'm sure many people do choose their political affiliation in that fashion, but there is a risk that they are seeing a skewed sample. A New York Times columnist (I think it was Pauline Kael) famously complained in 1972 that she didn't know anybody who voted for Nixon (who had just been re-elected in a landslide). These days, many Americans are getting similarly skewed views in favor of Republicans; many church leaders have openly supported Republican candidates (never mind that they aren't allowed to do this while keeping their IRS exemption). The internet has made it easier for people to seek out like-minded people, whether similarly sane or similarly lunatic.

Regarding cassettes: Once in a while I visit the swap shop at my municipal transfer station, and come home with a few cassettes. Much of it is 1980s pop/rock (the soundtrack of my high school and university years), some older stuff, and occasionally some classical music. Some I'll even put in the cassette deck of my car (built in 1995) when I'm out for a long drive--that's why I have kept most of my cassette collection (I've weeded out a few duplicates). Most of them I digitize (that's why I still keep a cassette deck) and import into iTunes. Once in a while I'll try to buy a CD of that music.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 01 Sep 2014 #permalink

@Eric, What I was groping at is that our friends are a skewed sample - but one that we have selected because our views tend to fit with theirs. So while they are not representative of the voting population, they are likely to collectively hold views very similar to your own. If you simply ask them what they vote for, chances are fairly high they vote for the same people you would anyway if you took the time to resesearch it yourself.

But large swaths of the US electorate vote against their stated political interests because of this. They don't check the issues, they just feel that they have e.g. a Democrat group identity.

If you simply ask them what they vote for, chances are fairly high they vote for the same people you would anyway if you took the time to resesearch it yourself.

That may be true where you live, but it is not true everywhere, and definitely not true of the US, where I live. Your method can work if all major political parties in the country work from the same set of facts, but fails spectacularly when you have a major faction as untethered to reality as the US Republicans. I know several people who grew up in eastern Europe before the Berlin Wall fell who compare the US Republicans to the Communist Party of the USSR. This was not always true--there used to be Republicans (including my parents) who accepted reality--but not anymore. The John Birch Society used to be considered, even by the staunchest of Republicans, a bunch of conspiracist loons. Not anymore--those views are now mainstream in the US Republican Party.

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

The Republicans are ruled by tribal symbolism. It does not matter what a candidate does as long as he says the right things. Republicans like Palin are specialists of speaking "word salad", that is, a string of unrelated concepts that contains as many buzzwords as possible.
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By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 02 Sep 2014 #permalink

I was sitting through a 5 hour business strategy meeting today.
As it happened, I sat next to Knut, a Swedish colleague of about my own vintage, because I had been asking his advice on a particular technical problem when we walking into the meeting room.

At the end of the 5 hour meeting, the boss looked beaming around the table and said "It makes me so happy to look around the table at our young team leaders. And it comforts me so much to see our group of senior special advisers" (gesturing warmly towards me, Knut and a couple if the older Chinese guys), "with their combined wisdom of more than 1,000 years." Knut and I looked at each other and totally cracked up. No one else in the room uttered a sound. There's something about respectful Chinese idiom that just doesn't translate into English.

Fear us, you mere mortals!!!

You wouldn't believe what I've been through.

By John Feudal-Overlord (not verified) on 04 Sep 2014 #permalink

John, I have encountered only a few Chinese expressions, but several of the ones I have encountered use round numbers: the top of a hundred foot pole, thousand-year-old eggs, and the Ten Thousand Li Long Wall (literal translation of the Chinese name for the Great Wall; this one is approximately right, since a li is about half a kilometer). My guess: your combined experience (or possibly age) was sufficiently greater than 100 years that to say "more than 100 years" might have been considered insulting. Or perhaps 1000 years actually is the idiom.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 04 Sep 2014 #permalink

Eric, you're right - one very common idiomatic use to describe a very large number of things is to say "10,000 things".

By John Feudal-Overlord (not verified) on 04 Sep 2014 #permalink

Whenever someone mentions Chinese expressions with numbers in them, I consider that the Chinese are the ones with Five Spice Powder (though this is probably an ABC = American born Chinese expression). The French only came up with Four Spice Powder (quatre epice).

They're weird about their numbers. Always these slogans about "Five Capitalist Perversions" this and "Eight National Virtues" that. And how the CCP feels that it can calculate the exact percentage of Mao's influence that was good (70%).

I have lived in buildings that lacked both a 4th floor (out of sensitivity to Chinese superstition about numbers) and a 13th floor (out of sensitivity to Western superstition about numbers).

In the lift one day, I said to a lady living on the 5th floor: "They're not fooling anyone, you know - you actually live on the dreaded 4th floor, and I actually live on the rather neutral 7th, not the lucky 8th." She said "I know, but as long as no one calls it that, it just makes us feel better."

Buddhism is absolutely full of 5 this and 8 that, and religious Taoism is numerical hell.

When I went to get a new mobile phone account, the guy offered me a list of numbers to choose from, and I said "Hey - just because I'm not Chinese, you are offering me all the unlucky numbers." He said "No, only unlucky for Chinese, not unlucky for you." In fact, he gave me an absolutely beautiful number that I love and will never part with - not lucky or unlucky, just beautiful in its symmetry and unforgettableness. When my mind has completely gone (a condition that appears to be rapidly approaching), I will still be able to remember my own phone number, simply because it is so beautiful.

By John Massey (not verified) on 07 Sep 2014 #permalink

Kaleberg, my daughter (who knows her stuff) says Five Spice Powder is a genuine native Chinese thing, not some tacky invention of the diaspora, and her mother (who also knows her stuff) confirmed it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 07 Sep 2014 #permalink

I've just discovered something odd. Bear with me.

To Chinese, the number 4 is unlucky. I can't be bothered explaining why - look it up. Because it sounds like "to die". Whereas number 8 is lucky, because it rhymes with the word meaning "to make money". "Oh no, I live on the 4th floor! I'm going to die! I want to move up to the 8th floor so I can make money instead! Life is so unfair!" You get the point. It's about as rational as people in my family regarding the number 13 with absolute dread. We've even got a special one - never own a green motor car with a 13 on the number plate and go out driving in it on Friday the 13th. If you see a black cat while you're driving around, you'll die for sure.

In the building we have been living in for the past couple of years or so, when it came to floor numbering, they said "Screw this superstition nonsense" and just numbered the floors 1,2,3,4,5...etc. And the numbering in the lifts is the same - 1,2,3,4,5... No one cares that the people living on the 4th and 14th floors are all going to die - we're very cynical people.

In every high rise building here (and I suppose lots of other places too), one lift has to be designated as a "firemen's lift" - that lift has to be able to access every floor in the building, and has to be operable by a special key kept by the firemen - so, in the event of a fire in the building, they turn all the lifts off, we all run down the fire escape stairs, and the firemen arrive, take over control of the firemen's lift, and they use that to do whatever they do - put the fire out, rescue incontinent geriatrics and unpleasant piano-playing children who have been callously left behind, etc.

And the firemen's lift has to be so designated by having a sign stuck on the wall next to it, which it has. On the ground floor, the sign says "Firemen's lift. This lift gives access to floors 1,2,3,4,5...12, 13, 14, 15..." Fine.

But below the 'ground' floor, which is really a 'podium' on top of two basement car-and-bicycle-parking floors, to which the lifts also descend, the sign stuck on the wall next to the firemen's lift says "Firemen's lift. This lift gives access to floors 1,2,3,3A, 5, 6...12, 13, 13A, 15, 16..." Eh? For what? For superstitious Chinese firemen? "I'm not going to floor number 4 to fight any fire. Call it 3A and I'll go and risk my life fighting a fire there or rescuing an incontinent geriatric, but if you call it 4 I'm not going." Seriously?

But there's a bloody great big concrete ramp so the fire engines can drive straight up from the street onto the building podium, so they're going to be entering the building from the podium level, not from down in the car park anyway. How odd.

One day, some poor fireman will mistakenly access the building from one of the car park floors, and spend the rest of his life fruitlessly searching the building for floors 3A and 13A, which don't exist. Or perhaps they do, and that's where we hide all the incontinent geriatrics.

By John Massey (not verified) on 07 Sep 2014 #permalink

Martin, assuming Yuejie has a perfectly natural interest in the origin of the Han ethnicity, this seems like a really important paper - it's worth reading all the way through, even the less comprehensible bits:…

It cross-checks pretty well with what is known from archaeology, as far as I can tell.

The origin of the Han, given they are now the most successful ethnic group in the world, has been one of the enduring mysteries of recent research on human population genetics, and it looks like they are getting to grips with it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 07 Sep 2014 #permalink

Interesting stuff! But it doesn't really say anything about genetic qualities. It just identifies three guys who were in the right place at the right time to become "super-grandfathers". Possibly three smart agricultural innovators, or just three lucky dudes.

Yeah - of course, it's just Y; as they say, the mt tells a very different story, and both are trivial in terms of whole genome compared to the autosomal. But these star-like phylogenies are seen elsewhere, as with R1A in Europe, and Genghis Khan and the Golden Family. It tells more about historical events and social organisation, I think, than genetic qualities. I can only guess that my mtDNA is Mesolithic European forager from a tracking of the haplogroup sub-group, rather than an invading Neolithic herder bearing the same main haplogroup. Visually she was likely to have had rather dark skin compared to her Neolithic relation, but of course there's no way to know that specifically.

One of the more interesting papers I saw was a PCA plot from autosomal DNA of Han together with a number of other Chinese ethnicities. Han themselves show a north-south spread when analysed at a sufficiently fine-grained scale; some of the other ethnicities plot essentially identically to Han, and some are really rather different. So it comes down to how an ethnic group is defined - if by genes alone, then some very culturally distinctive ethnic groups in China like the Miao would be lumped together with Han, or Han themselves might be split into Northern and Southern, with endless arguments about where to draw the arbitrary dividing line between north and south. But that in itself would become a bit self-defeating - as Razib Khan commented recently, there is less genetic differentiation in China (I'm pretty sure he meant among the Han majority, because some of the minorities are really obviously distinctive, like Kazakhs and Uyghurs) than in Switzerland.

For reasons I can't really explain, that made me glad I don't live in Switzerland, although I would be less genetically distinctive myself there than where I am. They must be too endogamous or geographically unadventurous or something - something at least that I cannot be accused of.

By John Massey (not verified) on 07 Sep 2014 #permalink

There is a simple answer to the floor numbering puzzle in our building, by the way. After the building was completed, it sat vacant for more than 16 years before the flats were put on the market. After that length of time, the owner decided to strip the building internally and completely refurbish it in order to get a reasonable market price for the flats.

In the intervening 16 years, people had become better informed and more discerning consumers (hence the need to completely replace all of the internal fittings with better quality stuff) and also apparently less superstitious (hence they could scrap the 3A and 13A floor number nonsense) (it is equally possible that the superstition was imposed by the original owner/builder, who was deceased by the time the flats were sold).

But there is nothing to refurbish in a basement car park, as long as the fire installations are in good working order - it is just a couple of basement levels of ugly plain concrete where people park cars and bicycles. So they didn't bother to replace the old original signs for the firemen's lifts - the meaning is clear enough to any Chinese fireman: 3A = 4.

By John Massey (not verified) on 08 Sep 2014 #permalink