Veckans ord: eldsäl

Egentligen är ju sälar rovdjur, men icke desto mindre har de en grundmurad image av små gulliga djur som tar det lugnt och ligger och trynar gemytligt på kobbar och plirar på omvärlden med små svarta ögon. (Utom bland yrkesfiskare, men de hatar ju å andra sidan alla djur.)

Sen lever ju sälar i vatten, så på det hela taget är det knepigt att föreställa sig vad en eldsäl kan vara för något.

… och två dagar senare har jag insett att ens om man kan föreställa sig det, så går det inte att åstadkomma i Photoshop om man inte gått kursen, gk, fk och ak. Alltså, en eldsäl som inte är ett dugg lik den som jag trodde jag skulle kunna åstadkomma:

Räkna med att en Photoshop-bok kommer att hamna i bokspalten till höger med tiden…


Das Ding an sich

In one of those interesting coincidences Åsa writes about the issue of repatriation, returning items from museums to the countries, regions or peoples they come from, while PZ writes about his mixed feelings about Lucy going on tour in the USA. Both touch on the matter that unique objects by definition only come in a single copy which is fragile and can only be in one place at a time, yet at the same time we are for seemingly less than rational reasons fascinated by the Real Thing and will not be at all as impressed with a replica, be it ever so faithful to the original.

From my personal perspective, I associate to the still ongoing debate about whether one should fly warbirds. The arguments are mainly along the two lines that warbirds are too rare and valuable to subject to the risk of smashing them up versus how aeroplanes belong in the air and how they attract a greater audience than static aircraft, thus bringing in more resources for restoration and preservation. And here is of course an important point that the issue of what is an “original” is greatly blurred for both flying and static museum aircraft. In very few cases is a museum aircraft stored in the shape it was when it was active, and in to an even lesser extent is this true for flying aircraft.

While there are veritable “Frankenstein's aircraft” composed of parts from many individuals (though note that many, in particular military, aircraft are quite heavily patched up with parts from other, cannibalised, aircraft during their active life) many are an identifiable individual with a known history, but then they are restored—repaired, refurbished, repainted. (And of course, painting has to be done to prevent corrosion and other degradation.) Only in later times has there been a concern with doing this restoration in such a manner that the final results correspond to what the aircraft would have looked like “in life” and now it often requires painstaking work to figure out what has been hidden underneath layers of locally procured paints, applied in some, sometimes completely imaginary, interpretation of what it originally might have looked like. (If you have seen the painting instructions for the original Revell Fw 190 model from 1963 and their complete lack of relation to reality, you'll know what I mean.)

Quite often a particular aircraft is painted to “represent” another, more famous individual, sometimes with no consideration to the actual subtype. (It is as if Bockstensmannen was displayed in heavy makeup to be lifelike, dressed up as Gustav Eriksson (Vasa), as a tribute to the latter.) Too often is a Hispano Buchón presented as a Bf 109, in fake German markings, which I think belittles the certainly worthy service history of the Buchón. (And makes people believe the 109 had that godawful chin!).

So show some respect for the aircraft and show them as they looked during some part of their own career.


Non-verbal communication

A recent article in Current Biology“Orangutans Modify Their Gestural Signaling According to Their Audience's Comprehension” by Cartmill and Byrne describes how orangutans adapt their gestures to whether they consider themselves to have been understood or not. To be more precise, the orangutans were offered fruit and vegetables and would make signs to indicate that they wanted the tasty bananas rather than the icky leeks. Now, if they just got half a banana they would make more emphatic gestures of the same kind to clarify that they wanted all of it, but if they got leeks, they would try different gestures to indicate that they wanted the banana. This then indicates that they have a concept of different modes of misunderstanding and that they have different strategies for alleviating different misunderstandings, which then in turn has consequences for hypotheses of the evolution of communication in apes.

This reminded me of another non-speaking primate, namely the Only-begotten Son when he was younger. At one point we had happened to buy a big bag of ice lollies which he took to, sweet, cold and brightly-coloured as they were, so he would gladly have eaten nothing but them. His parents however thought that even two a day were quite a lot, especially considering the Technicolor results they left in his diapers. So, one day the little tyke comes and takes me by the hand and pulls me to the kitchen where he eagerly points towards the freezer. I decide to play stupid and claim I do not understand what he wants. The little one immediately zips off and returns moments later with a used lolly stick in his hand, holds it up to me and points at the freezer with the other hand. I could but capitulate and give him his prize…

Do you trust the police?

I and the Only-begotten Daughter were walking by the Police house this morning and she reflected that there probably was lots of secret tunnels and stuff under it. I conceded that this was the case, pointing out the ventilation shafts rising from the ground and she gleefully exclaimed “They undermine our city and they don't obey our laws!”


The pride of my children

Last Sunday I was completely knocked out—nauseous and dizzy. As I had been airbrushing an unusually big model the day before I was worried that I suffered from solvent poisoning. (Yeah, I still use Humbrol enamels, I know how they work and I have a couple of hundred tins.)

As the dizziness subsided, but did not completely disappear, I went to see a physician for a second opinion. He explained that I had a textbook example of Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo which would sort itself out with time. So what causes BPPV? Aging. Thanks a lot!

I told the children of this diagnosis and the Only-begotten Daughter was very disappointed as she had already told all her friends that I had almost died from thinner sniffing. Ah well, gotta keep my reputation up, I guess…


Cutting your losses would mean slashing your wrists

Tim Kreider is one of my favourite cartoonists, who, while being ground down by despair yet refuses to become personally cynical. His latest two installments of The Pain—When Will It End? contain some of the most poignant writing I've read on the inevitable losses that life subjects us to and the realisation that Things probably won't work out. And yet, we go on, not because conscience makes cowards of us all but as heroes, gritting our teeth, doing what has to be done because others depend on us.


Veckans ord: ytnyttja

Jorden är begränsad, så det gäller att ytnyttja den effektivt. Det kan man göra genom att stapla på höjden, så går det inte åt lika mycket yta. Så har man gjort i New York.

Men det finns ju också andra värden som man kan behöva ta hänsyn till. Akademiska Hus har i uppdrag att dra in pengar från de universitet och högskolor som utnyttjar deras lokaler. Akademiska Hus struntar i vad universiteten använder lokalerna till, det är inte deras problem. Labbsalar och verkstäder tar mycket yta men används bara ibland och inte av så många personer åt gången. De blir relativt sett dyrare än t ex kontorslokaler som det sitter många personer i hela dagarna. Alltså bestämmer sig institutionen när den gör sin budget för att man nog kanske kan klara sig utan en labbbsal i alla fall och göra laborationer på dator i stället, så kan man lämna ifrån sig utrymmet till Akademiska Hus som kan göra kontor av dem och hyra ut till t ex nåt företag som behöver lokaler. Då har man ytnyttjat effektivt, och alla är glada. Men studenterna får se allt mindre av verkligheten och sitta alltmer vid simuleringar istället.


Going nowhere

This morning the bus driver regaled us passengers by playing bhangra music very loudly. It however failed to transport me anywhere else but Vasastan.


Poker face? I don't even have a poker mouth

Kal notes that he has a poker face in front of patients, which threw my memory back to when I was in high school, training to become a medical engineer. Part of this was a two-week internship at the Department of Medical Physics at Huddinge Hospital.

One day I and my partner got to make a study visit to see the gamma camera unit and follow an examination. The patient was an elderly gentleman with prior history of cancer who was there for a follow-up. The technician showed us how the camera was operated, the pictures were taken and then we went a bit further down the corridor for developing (long before digital equipment, this was). Slowly the big image came out of the machine and the technician put it on the light table for a check. As soon as I see the ghostly silhouette, peppered all over with dense black spots, I blurt out:
“All those are metastases!?”
“HUSH!” hiss both my partner and the technician. The former gives me a “You idiot!” glare and the latter glances furtively towards the patient, who is obliviously standing further down the corridor. Luckily it seems he hasn't heard me, or he has a better poker face than I.

The technician shoves the pictures into an envelope and seals it with half a dozen staples and then immediately sends the patient down for X-rays. To us he says:
“It's his doctor's job to explain”, and then mumbles “They get really good results with chemotherapy these days…”


Vinnande bidrag i kategorin ”Snårigaste inledning”,
Mycket skrik för lite ull,
Finns det nån tanke bakom alls?

För länge sen, när jag pluggade på Teknis, fanns på Flygsektionen en teknolog som hette Einar. Einar var något av en legend, inte bara på Flyg utan även på övriga KTH, som på den tiden var tillräckligt litet för att man skulle kunna ha någorlunda koll på varandra. Det förefaller mig också ibland att trots den mindre mängden personer så fanns det fler original. Kanske kunde de sticka ut mer på den tiden.

Einar var ett kårvrak, en av dessa som lägger ner mängder av tid på att anordna fester, driva studentfackliga ärenden och hjälpa andra teknologer, kort sagt en av dessa eldsjälar utan vilken ingen förening överlever. En följd härav är att studierna lätt blir lidande och när Einar med tiden gick hädan för egen hand hade han varit inskriven i femton år eller så, vilket naturligtvis gav förutsättningar för mängden historier om honom och inte minst den ärliga saknad och sorg bland många över hela KTH som uttrycktes i den vackra dödsruna som sektionskamraterna skrev. (Jag var doktorand ungefär lika länge och när jag hörde en yngre kollega beskriva mig som en ”institution på institutionen” började jag på allvar anstränga mig för att ta mig därifrån – dock i mitt fall genom att ta examen.)

Men, under mitt första år som teknolog levde han fortfarande och jag läste i Flygs sektionstidning en anekdot om honom som gick ungefär så här:
Einar skulle upp på tentan i Mek. Mek-tentorna bestod huvudsakligen av typtal och hade man plugggat fem extentor fick man garanterat godkänt. Einar var ambitiös och pluggade tio extentor. Tyvärr hade detta bara gett honom tid att memorera svaren.

På tentan kommer mycket riktigt ett av typtalen och Einar skriver raskt ner svaret medan han fortfarande kommer ihåg det. Sen börjar han arbeta med lösningen men fastnar halvvägs. Han utgår då från svaret och börjar jobba sig bakåt men kommer inte riktigt ända fram till den punkt där han fastnat tidigare. Vad göra? Einar inför överraskningskoefficienten stora Ö och sätter likhetstecken. Einar klarar tentan.

Denna historia återberättade jag något senare för ett par sektionskamrater. En av dem, en ärans träbock som till min stora lättnad hoppade av studierna inte alltför långt senare, gned sig på hakan och invände:
– Men inte kan väl tentarättaren ha godkänt det?*
– Förbannade historieförstörare! skrek jag.
Orubbad fortsatte träbocken att gnida sig på hakan och konstaterade fundersamt:
– Ja, man kanske inte ska analysera historier på det sättet…

Vilket för mig till det som egentligen var det jag tänkte skriva om, nämligen att analysera sönder en billig vits, jag kanske är gammal nog att kunna tillåta mig att vara en träbock.

Christina vrålar i vrede och frustration över (bl a?) det mansdominerade samhället och jag drar mig till minnes en historia jag läst någonstans för länge sen:
En gumma kommer in på apoteket och får syn på en flaska med en dödskalle och texten ”GIFT”. Hon konstataterar:
– Ja, se karlar kan se ut hur som helst, de blir gifta i alla fall.

Nu skulle man kunna tänka sig att den som ursprungligen totade ihop denna historia helt enkelt utgick från de dubbla betydelserna i ordet ”gift” och sen försökte baka ihop en historia runt det, men man behöver inte vara Freud för att reflektera över den bitterhet som lyser fram. Bara att gumman utgår från att dödskallen är en man (om hon nu inte förstås var (f d) osteolog och kunde identifiera könet på ögonhålornas form, men ikoniska framställningar är nog i allmänhet inte tillräckligt detaljerade för att detta ska vara möjligt), kopplat till det förmodat åtråvärda tillståndet att vara gift. (Man kan till och med fundera över om det är så att äktenskapet ska uppfattas som åtråvärt för mannen enbart.) Frågan är också om det finns en antydan av tvång, samhälleligt eller annorledes, som garanterar äktenskap åt männen, oberoende av deras yttre företräden. Det är dock oklart om gumman anser karlar vara kräk även i sina inre egenskaper, det skulle kunna tänkas vara givet förstås. Inramningen av historien antyder att den utspelar sig kanske inte direkt i nutiden, där det sällan står flaskor framme på apotekshyllorna på det sättet och framförallt inte heller med sådana etiketter. Kanske är giftermål inte lika viktigt idag heller, även om tvåförhållanden fortfarande tycks vara normen.

Om nu dessa funderingar hade nån sorts slutsats skulle den här bloggen inte heta som den gör…

* Jo, nog kunde tentarättaren det. Några år senare hamnade jag i i stort sett samma situation på en Diff & Trans-tenta där Greens formel fallit mig ur minnet, men jag jobbade mig mot mitten av problemet från bägge hållen och satte likhetstecken i mitten. Jag blev också godkänd på tentan.


Why Germany lost the war, reason #427

So I have a case of serious cognitive dissonance with relation to the military business, but I'll admit to occasionally enjoying march music—especially with bag pipes—and will always sing along to Kgl Södermanlands Regementes marsch (”Här i Bayern skall ölet flöda fritt”).

Now, one would perhaps expect Nazi Germany to have been particularly good in the march area, it certainly sounds so in films, but having discovered a stash of original WWII music (children under the age of 18 are kindly requested to stay away) I must say that Nazi marches all sound like dirges, even those written in the beginning of the war. Prescient.


Veckans ord: idelologisk

Ideologier kan man ha på olika nivåer. Förmodligen har väl alla nånstans i botten nån sorts känsla för vad man vill med världen och hur man bör behandla sin omgivning. Med lite tankemöda kan man försöka organisera sina känslor så att de inte är alltför motstridiga och då kan man börja kalla det för en ideologi. Nu är det ju inte alla som gör sig besväret med att fundera över sin världsbild och om den är logiskt sammanhängande. Man kan istället överta en ideologi som nån annan formulerat och kanske har man till fullo har förstått den, kanske har man bara tagit till sig fraser och formuleringar.

Om man nu bara tagit till sig utanverket utan att ha förstått skillnaden på mål och situationsberoende medel, kan man inte desto mindre vara politiskt aktiv och hårt argumentera för den ena och andra problemlösningen som man tror är en viktig del av ens ideologi, men eftersom man inte förstått grundaxiomen blir argumentationen idelologisk.


Giant churches ≠ megachurches

In my childhood my family spent the summer holidays in Finland, staying at various rental cottages until we converged on a nice place right in the geographical centre of Finland where we children found friends our own age and spent the summers swimming, fishing, and playing in the local sand-pit. (For example dodging tractor tyres rolled down the hill—it's a wonder none of us was injured.)

However, my father tended to get impatient after a few days and had us bundle into the car and drive away to look at some “tourist attraction” or other. Now, this was truly in the middle of nowhere; I understand the artificial insemination facility is still on the local tourist board's top-five list of sight-seeing spots… So, one of these more or less remarkable things we went to see was Pirunkirkko, the Devil's Church.

Of course—a recurrent event whenever we went on these trips—we got lost and spent seemingly hours carefully navigating narrow forest roads that tended to suddenly end in nothing, but thanks to a local yeoman on one of these roads, we eventually got to the right spot as marked by a hand-painted wooden sign pointing into the forest. Walking a bit further we finally got to the spot marked X, and it was good that it was or we would have missed it completely. Apparently the rocks at that point were slightly larger than the surrounding rocks and placed slightly more resembling a rectangular shape than not, but for the rest they were just as moss-covered and granitic as all the other rocks in the forest. One would have thought that we would have been hardened by then, yet we were disappointed and Father's exhortations to use our imaginations to locate the pulpit and altar really didn't help.

I was reminded of this event when I read this article on “Giant churches” in Ostrobothnia in Hufvudstadsbladet. The accompanying photograph does not give any hint of what they actually look like, but they are assumed to be stone-age constructions though not houses. Their purpose and function has not been known and they have not been excavated to any great extent, but now a careful excavation of a giant church in Alaveteli has been started.

Shout-out to Åsa and Martin, what are your expert comments on giant churches?



“Trope” is not a word in my active vocabulary, but it may end up there now. In the literary sense it is about recurrent motifs within genres, design patterns if you will, or in other words, why too many fantasy books feel all alike.

TV Tropes is a wiki about tropes not only in television series but in increasingly more tenuously connected areas and as in all good dictionaries, you can browse for much too long, learning the use of the The Worf Effect in X-Men, how Phlebotinum can save the day and why everything happens in New York.


Instant anthology

One attempt to get past spam filters is to hide the sales pitch as a picture in a thicket of random phrases. This recent spam seemed to use sentences culled from fiction stories and several of them seemed as if they could be interesting. So, if you, like me, really should be doing more important things, here is the Spam Anthology, with every sentence linked to the webpage from which it apparently was lifted:

A wad of silkpaper followed the powder down the barrel.
By the end of the 1980s, medical MRI scanning had become a major enterprise, and Damadian had won the National Medal of Technology, along with many other honors.
By the time it managed to stabilize itself and line up a shot, I had pumped a total of fifteen rockets.
The stream of oil was moving at a speed of no more than one metre per second.
By the door of her son's room the mother knelt upon the floor and listened for some sound from within.
I have bespoke supper to-morrow night in Eastcheap.
Unfortunately, its development seems to have been abandoned.
By the time his soft warm kisses reached her thighs, she was panting with suddenly and unexpectedly awakened desire.
But if it tickles, I won't be able to stand it.
Plantagenet shall speak first.
His small, bright eyes studied Deke without malice.
By studying this code, you can learn about all the details associated with the SCC and discover how to extend or otherwise modify the Standard Library routines.
By that time all the bells were ringing in Dale and the warriors were arming.
By the late nineteenth century the recurrence of this pattern had become obvious to many observers.
By the way, I like ecc but if (as the comments say) it can't deal with loss of block sync, I'm tempted to throw some time at adding that capability.
The user types the two numbers to be added, then clicks a button, which in turn sends the two numbers to the Web server.
By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the enemy from anticipating his purpose.
C'est vrai, elle est en train d'accoucher.
By the time you're forty, you've done everything you possibly could with our present, 'natural' sexual system.
Ay, go your ways, go your ways.
By the time they are found out they have already taken what they want from your system and have compromised several others.
By the way, what were you doing when you were summoned to headquarters.
By the time the cruise missile impacted against the wing wall, I'd rolled on the other side of it, protected.
Let the arm of the Lord of the Dawn shelter us from the Dark, and the great sword of justice defend us.

Interestingly, many of these seem to link to various repositories of scanned literature on Russian servers—a sinister connection between stock tip spammers and copyright breakers, clearly the organised crime on the Internet I've heard so much about.


Veckans ord

Ibland hittar jag ord som är felstavade som om det varit en tanke bakom och då skriver jag upp dem i min Palm för att de inte ska förfaras. Men det är ju klart att jag måste dela med mig av dem, så jag tänkte försöka skriva om ett sånt ord varje fredag ett tag framöver.

Veckans ord är alternaiv.

Jag tycker det är väldigt väl beskriver en viss sorts människotyp som okritiskt hoppar på allt som är mot Etablissemanget. Man brukar kunna hitta alternaiva personer på yogakurser, miljöpartiets stämmor eller ute i Järna…



The company will outsource its IT support and interviewed a small consulting company. Among their references was a fairly big multinational.
“How do you manage handle all their support with so little staff?”
“We've uninstalled Internet Explorer, cuts down the support cases to nothing.”


Broken English

I stumbled upon the Speech Accent Archive, a collection of several hundred persons reading the same English paragraph. Each person has a speech recording with phonetic transcription and notes on their pronounciation differences from standard US English.

My reaction to hearing the recordings was that the speakers in general spoke quite understandable English. My experiences with non-native English speakers from around the world suggests that the recorded speakers may not be entirely representative of their region. Of course, one can presume that the speakers are not quite randomly selected, but that there might be some degree of self-selection for people speaking relatively good English involved. Then of course, the speakers were presumably aided by the given text in that they didn't have to spend effort on generating grammatically correct sentences in addition to pronouncing the words correctly. On the other hand, sometimes it is clear that the speakers are struggling with just reading the text, being in a foreign alphabet and all, and this of course affects the speech rhythm in a specific way. Otherwise it would be interesting to note the differences in prosody in addition to the differences in pronounciation.


Why I'll never be a comedian

Arkland has a hilarious take on the recent debate about archaeological pseudoscience.

I just have to admit that I could never have written anything similarly funny, I would have got too caught up in actually computing the correct path of Uranus in 4321 BCE.