Sunday, July 15, 2018

I never know how late to these parties I've arrived, but here:

Things I Won't Work With

A quick paragraph or two from some selections:

From "Sand Won't Save You This Time":

Let’s put it this way: during World War II, the Germans were very interested in using [chlorine trifluoride] in self-igniting flamethrowers, but found it too nasty to work with. It is apparently about the most vigorous fluorinating agent known, and is much more difficult to handle than fluorine gas. That’s one of those statements you don’t get to hear very often, and it should be enough to make any sensible chemist turn around smartly and head down the hall in the other direction.
From "Azidotetrazolate Salts":

An early favorite has appeared in my “most alarming chemical papers” file for this year. Thomas Klapoetke and Joerg Stierstorfer from Munich have published one with a simple title that might not sound unusual to people outside the field, but has made every chemist I’ve shown it to point like a bird dog: “The CN7 Anion”. The reason that one gets our attention is that compounds with lots of nitrogens in them – more specifically, compounds with a high percentage of nitrogen by weight – are a spirited bunch. They hear the distant call of the wild, and they know that with just one leap of the fence they can fly free as molecules of nitrogen gas. And that’s never an orderly process. If my presumably distant cousin Nick Lowe does indeed love the sound of breaking glass, then these are his kinds of compounds. A more accurate song title for these latest creations would be “I Love the Sound Of Shrapnel Bouncing Off My Welder’s Mask”, but that sort of breaks up the rhythm.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

With Mexica in the news of late, what with tzompantli and skulls and whatnot, it's worth remembering what an astonishing civilization they were.

Here's the Florentine Codex online. If the Aztecs had survived Cortez, kids would watch cartoons informed by their toltecat aesthetic, play Eagles vs. Jaguars, and beg their parents to let them take macuahuitl classes.
Reconsidering the lurid tale of Nag Hammadi.

(ht to Marginal Revolution)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Indo-European dog and wolf sacrifice traditions: linguistic and literary sources now supplemented by archaeology? This speculation strikes me as very weak sauce scientifically, but it's intriguing and certainly quite romantic.

HT: LanguageHat

Thursday, May 10, 2018

I strongly suspect that more or less everyone in the world who would find this useful already knows about it, but nevertheless: Eastern Orthodox liturgical texts in various Alaskan indigenous languages.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Peculiar's post about fishing for salmon in Nevada got me thinking about how skewed our baseline intuitions are regarding faunal populations. We are very poor at considering how abundant animal life was even three or four hundred years ago, let alone imagining back in deep time. We wildly underestimate what "normal" looks like.

On that subject, here's a charming paper which uses historical Chinese sources to estimate gibbon populations over a four hundred year span, before local extinction.

They (gibbons) appear in some of the Judge Dee stories, I believe as a deliberate attempt to give an air of authentic antiquity (the stories themselves being written over a millennium after that perspicacious gentleman's life). The Van Gulik novels are worth tracking down, being the work of a Dutchman writing English mysteries based on deliberately anachronistic Chinese stories of the eighteenth century written using Tang dynasty sources. Guardians against cultural appropriation can work out who owes what to whom.

I'm giving this a 'primates' label, optimistic that it will see heavy use.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Remembering when one could fish for salmon in Nevada. Not in the Pleistocene, either, just before they dammed the Snake.
We now value tolerance over physical courage. Steve Bannon is literally Hitler.

There, I just saved you ten minutes.

Not disputing the above, mind you; just vexed at shallow classicism.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

I now know where John C. Wright gets his ideas: mad Roman semi-demi-scientifiction.

Compare the following passages. First, from Titans of Chaos:

"I saw Mulciber's giants, fallen, with technicians in long brown coats walking across helmet-tops, directing spider-machines at their repairs. I saw fleets and battle-barges of Mavors, thrown onto shoals and rocks, with lizard-faced Laestrygonians bailing and shouting orders to running sailors.
I saw one group of Atlanteans in outer space, abandoning a tumbling space vessel, which glowed cherry red as its orbit decayed into the poisonous atmosphere of Venus. Atlanteans in black and silver armor dropped out of the airlock like pearls on a slightly curving string, one after another, and fell out and away from the dying ship."

Now,  Lucian of Samosata's A True Story
"That day we were entertained by the king; in the morning we took our place in the ranks as soon as we were up, our scouts having announced the approach of the enemy. Our army numbered 100,000 (exclusive of camp-followers, engineers, infantry, and allies), the Horse-vultures amounting to 80,000, and the remaining 20,000 being mounted on Salad-wings. These latter are also enormous birds, fledged with various herbs, and with quill-feathers resembling lettuce leaves. Next these were the Millet-throwers and the Garlic-men. Endymion had also a contingent from the North of 30,000 Flea-archers and 50,000 Wind-coursers. The former have their name from the great fleas, each of the bulk of a dozen elephants, which they ride. The Wind-coursers are infantry, moving through the air without wings; they effect this by so girding their shirts, which reach to the ankle, that they hold the wind like a sail and propel their wearers ship-fashion. These troops are usually employed as skirmishers. 70,000 Ostrich-slingers and 50,000 Horse-cranes were said to be on their way from the stars over Cappadocia. But as they failed to arrive I did not actually see them; and a description from hearsay I am not prepared to give, as the marvels related of them put some strain on belief."

This post took me over an hour to write, since I got caught up reading Titans and forgot that I was writing it. This said by way of fairly direct recommendation.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Monday, April 23, 2018

Happy St. George's Day, all!

Today it is traditional to gather dandelions for wine. I will not be doing so, since, not to put too fine a point on it, dandelion wine is terrible stuff.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

From the Atlantic: Was There a Civilization on Earth before Humans?

"We’re used to imagining extinct civilizations in terms of the sunken statues and subterranean ruins. These kinds of artifacts of previous societies are fine if you’re only interested in timescales of a few thousands of years. But once you roll the clock back to tens of millions or hundreds of millions of years, things get more complicated."

Hey guys, try to keep up. I can't be the only one that's read Toolmaker Koan or The Green Marauder. Or Jack Vance, come to that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

In November 1917, a local oil baron united Chechen, Ingush and Ossetian peoples in a Mountain Republic, allied with Germany. The Republic had the distinction of being defeated by both sides in the Russian civil war – first by the Reds, in March 1918, then by the Whites, in May 1919.
Just one of many very obscure and short-lived nations from Russia's civil war. The Republic of Uhtua, the Soviet Republic of Soldiers and Fortress-Builders, Green Ukraine (which was in the Far East), the Confederated Republic of Altai, the list goes on. Some of them had interesting flags too.

Friday, April 06, 2018

"An Inordinate Fondness for Wasps" is a damn good title.

Here is the paper itself.
>We challenge the oft-repeated claim that the beetles (Coleoptera) are the most species-rich order of animals. Instead, we assert that another order of insects, the Hymenoptera, are more speciose, due in large part to the massively diverse but relatively poorly known parasitoid wasps.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Iranian pigeon towers.

The brief note below the pictures claims that the guano was used as fertilizer; I will simply add a link here to Encyclopedia Iranica's entry on the history of firearms in Persia and point out that guano has more bellicose uses, too.

Friday, March 30, 2018

So, they're teaching 'Africentric maths' up North. I've not much comment on the article per se, but I did want to mention that a) it's not a bad idea because b) the Egyptians had some brilliant, bizarre things going on even if c) the school in question (at least from this article) is just doing math with some pyramids thrown in.*

But in truth Egyptian math is a wonderful example of practical restrictions leading to deep understanding. Let's look at their use of fractions:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

So did you know Anna Russell's summary of the Ring Cycle is on YouTube?

Also, how in Heaven's name have we never made a Wagner tag? Fixed!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Friday, January 26, 2018

One trouble with having gone through a certain sort of adolescence is that one cannot read the samkhya sutra without thinking about it in terms of a Dungeons and Dragons encounter table.

"Efficient Causes! Roll 1d8:

1) Virtue. Evolve to a higher plane (gain one level).
2) Knowledge. Emancipate and reroll.
3) Dispassion. Immune to purusa; gain 'absorption in pakriti' quality.
4) Power. Automatically succeed on next roll.
5) Vice. Descent to negative material plane.
6) Ignorance. As Hold Person.
7) Passion. Roll on Reincarnation table.
8) Weakness. Fail next opposed roll."

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Fascinating paper on the longbow, and why it was not adopted to any great extent outside England and Wales.
A ruler who adopted the longbow by creating a culture of archery thus effectively armed a large segment of his population, which in turn created an opportunity that a usurping noble with an eye on the Crown could exploit. Such a noble could organize effective rebellion against his ruler by utilizing the large number of citizens with the human capital required for proficient use of the cheap and easy-to-produce weapon. A ruler therefore had to be confident in his political security to be willing to adopt the bow.
This explanation is of course wrong, as it was entirely due to our greater manly virtue and fortitude.

Modern analogues are left to the reader.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Amazing, if this research pans out and is verified - from the abstract:

We document Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and non-Indigenous observations of intentional fire-spreading by the fire-foraging raptors Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), and Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) in tropical Australian savannas. Observers report both solo and cooperative attempts, often successful, to spread wildfires intentionally via single-occasion or repeated transport of burning sticks in talons or beaks.

Friday, February 10, 2017

News of the 21st Century: the Navy is synthesizing hagfish slime and contemplating its potential.

“From a tactical standpoint, it would be interesting to have a material that can change the properties of the water at dilute concentrations in a matter of seconds,” Ryan Kincer, a materials engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division, said in a statement.
The Navy also envisions using the material in products to protect firefighters and divers, as an anti-shark spray, and as a coating for ships to protect against algae, barnacles and other aquatic life that typically attach to them.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Incomprehensible phrases from Maltese - not quite the Monty Python Hungarian phrasebook, but close!
“Therefore penis, Mr Parish Priest!”

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Data from forests in the Alaska panhandle translated into music - the results are very nice:

"To represent the changing forests of the Alexander Archipelago in music, Sawe used a different instrument or group of instruments for each of the five conifer species Oakes measured—piano for yellow-cedar, flute for western hemlock, cello and bass for Sitka spruce, violin and viola for mountain hemlock, and clarinet for shore pine. In the clip above, each note represents a tree, and its pitch and how hard it’s hit corresponds with tree’s height and diameter. (Lower, shorter notes stand for younger trees, while higher, longer notes stand for older ones.) Dead trees are represented by dropped notes—gaps of silence that widen as the sonification moves from the cooler study plots in the north to the warmer plots in the south."

Friday, June 03, 2016

When passing to the other world, the soul of a person who has hit a dog “shall fly howling louder and more sorely grieved than the sheep does in the lofty forest when the wolf ranges.” A man who kills a dog is required by the Avesta to perform a list of penances eighteen lines long. One of the penances is to kill a thousand cats.

From a fascinating book review by Chas Clifton. Another for the reading list!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Tatooine Cycle.

There was once a great queen of Alt Da Rann and Leia was her name. War had sprung up between her people and those of Da Thféider. She sent messengers to ask for aid from the wildman, Cenn Obi. He lived in the wilderness far to the west. These were the messengers she sent: Síd Tríphe Óg, who knew all the languages of man and beast,(2) and the dwarf, Artú.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Learn Tuvan with Songs

Great website! It's appealing even if you're not trying to learn Tuvan, but would just like to look at some lyrics and translations to famous throat-singing numbers.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

A well-known Jysk tongue-twister, a æ u å æ ø i æ å, means “I am on the island in the stream” and contains no consonants.

A Guide to Endangered Languages

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Abyaneh, the red village (great photos in the link!): 

At the foot of the hill, the fort of Hanjan is enthroned above the here already dry wadi. A veritable Fort of the Tatar Steppe: it has awaited the enemy for two thousand years, but the enemy has not come. The invaders forgot the valley hidden among the mountains in the middle of the desert. While the seventh-century Arab conquerors forced their religion and language onto almost all Persia, the inhabitants of the valley remained Zoroastrians until the 16th century, when the central power of the Safavid dynasty was established, and they still speak the Middle Persian language of the pre-conquest Sasanian empire.