Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Torbjorn the Runecarver

There are apparently still a few people left out there that Coz and I haven't cornered to tell this story to, and who are therefore still wondering why the merest mention of Vikings sends us into fits of snickering in the corner.  But it takes a little while to tell properly, so I thought I'd write it down.

Back in 2012, we got to spend a month in Spain, Sweden, and Norway.  At the very end of our trip, we visited the town of Sigtuna, Sweden, which is famous for it's runestones.  "Famous" turns out to be correct; its close to Stockholm, and the place is jam-packed with bus tours full of Germans and midwesterners, strolling the strip in their Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops, buying tacky souvenir horned hats.  Once you get off the main drag however, it's a lovely little medieval town with quite a nice museum.  And runestones.



The stones are scattered throughout the town - some whole, some broken up and re-purposed in churches or graveyards.  There's a map you get from the Tourist Info office, but some are fairly-well hidden, so you have to track them down.  Each is accompanied by a small plaque, written by some slightly-stuffy archeologist 20 years ago, explaining what they have translated of the writing on the stone, and what they know of its history.

I don't remember any exact text, but it went a bit like this:

"Stone of inferior workmanship, carved by Torbjorn in XXX to commemorate the building of a new bridge over the River Tun."

"Excellent example of twined knotwork or vines by Olaf Rolfsdottir."

"Crude piece without writing; attributed to Torbjorn."

"Beautiful interwoven dragon motif, carved by Hjarlmar Rockbiter on the tenth anniversary of his father's death, in his memory."

"The inscription reads: 'To honor his ancestors, Knut Erikkson had this stone carved by the hand of the Great Torbjorn' - poor spelling and bad penmanship."

A decorated "blank" (no writing) by the Great Torbjorn.
It was never explicitly mentioned in the signs, and yet slowly a picture started to form; every single time he was mentioned, Torbjorn the runecarver copped some fairly harsh criticism from our unknown archaeologist / art critic... and yet Torbjorn had clearly also carved about half of the stones in town.

At which point you may be thinking "Heh; that is mildly amusing."  But Coz and I had been on the road for over a month; despite having a fantastic time, we may have been a bit frayed around the edges.  Whatever the reason, this struck us as the most hilarious thing we'd ever seen in our lives.  Pretty soon we were rushing to the next sign and expounding pretentious critiques of his obviously inferior skills.  We're giving each other the Torbjorn used-runestone sales pitch:

"Oh yeah mate, I _could_ do you one of those twisty things like Olaf Dragoncarver, but it'd be 6 months, and it'd cost ya.  Now this baby here, this I did last year for Dave the Smith over in Uppsala, to honor his wife's father.  Only she ran off with a tinker and now he doesn't want it, does he?  Never put the names on; never had a day in the sun in its life.  Now for you mate, because I like you, I could do this baby signed and delivered by Tuesday for - I'm cutting me own throat here! - for a mere 20 gold Knuts.  Do you a mostly *cough* matched set if you like; put one on either end of a bridge and no one will be able to tell them apart.  I swear it to you by Odin's left testicle.  Praise your ancestors coming and going.  Wattaya say?  Only I'd move fast; had this guy up from Stockholm yesterday and he was very interested in this piece..."

By this point we're weeping tears of laughter, and having to hold ourselves upright on ancient historical artifacts to keep from falling over.  The few other tourists who made it out this far have brittle smiles and are backing away slowly, because we've obviously overdosed on history and cracked.  Which only makes us laugh harder, because we're imagining them as customers stunned by the full kilo-candle glare of the commercial juggernaut that is the Steve Jobs of runestones; Bloodeagle-Me-Own-Chest Torbjorn.

So there you have it; hundreds of years of proud heritage and culture, reduced by a pair of giggling Aus-Sceppos to a bad Used Car Salesman joke.  I think we escaped confinement for our own safety only because the town policemen were superstitious, and didn't want to touch crazy people.  If you mention vikings or runes and we lose it a bit, just smile and back away.  And for goodness sake don't let us sell you any runestones...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cocktails... for Science!


Experiments in home-extracted DNA as a cocktail garnish. I'm tentatively calling it a martidna - since people in this country seem to believe anything alcoholic in a martini glass that costs at least $8 is a martini - but that could use some work. Suggestions?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Sorry Guardian...

...and I realise that its puerile and immature of me even to notice, much the less snigger, but I completely fail to believe that this juxtaposition of photos and captions was accidental:
Just... no.

(I swear I did not make this up.  Or photoshop it.  Or anything.  Screenshotted in the wild, from the sidebar at The Guardian.)

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Chrissie Pissie: a proposal

A thought I had at last year's Chrissie Pissie, and would like to bring up now in the lead up to the social season:

Can we shift the $15 surly santa presents away from 'gag gifts' towards 'stuff people would actually want in their house'.

Two reasons I can think of:
1. Less clutter in people's houses, more things they remember fondly. I really don't need more geek-themed coasters, cookie cutters or sound emitting devices in my life. I do however want cool coffee mugs, or some lovely tea, or a nice book, or a pot for a houseplant, or a cool kitchen gadget, etc.
2. More meaningful environmental impact. Each of those items takes energy, and water and resources to make. To then have them used once or twice is, in my books, not something that fits with the ethos of most of us.

I do however think that nerf guns/sports equipment that get used on the day and then handed to a child are an exception. But then, they'd get used more than once or twice, so they fit reason two.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Turkey day is approaching....

You have been warned! Batton down the hatches, loosen those waistbands, slow-cooked turkey is a-comin'! Get ready with your servings of grits and jell-o salad. We will once again provide the venue and the birds, and look forward to seeing you all there! Turkenation is scheduled to commence around 1pm on Saturday, 30th November. Dinner will be around 6 or 7 pm as usual.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Get on Up!

I'm sure most of the ForBattle! crowd probably agree with this. Via GetUp! on Facebook:

"Get this: the TV networks are refusing to put GetUp members' ad on the air. Channel 7 refused outright on the grounds that it was "distasteful", while Channel Ten and Channel Nine have told us directly that they won't continue running the ad because it criticises Rupert Murdoch.

"And in a really bizarre twist of events, Channel 9 withdrew the approved ad from broadcast after having accepted payment for the ad spots, and haven't confirmed they'll refund the money.

"They're giving Murdoch a free pass while censoring our free speech. We won't let that stop us though. Can you help us make sure as many Australians watch this ad as possible? It's already been seen by more than 100,000 Australians online - like & SHARE this to keep it growing!"
 So I'm sharing,because I'm really bloody sick of the appalling bias in our media.
 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Finite Haiku

So a funny thing happened in my brain today. I wondered... given that haiku has exactly 17 syllables all up (5/7/5), and that the english language has a certain number of words/sounds, how many unique haiku exist? Well.. I'm still not sure, but I did some poking around to work out the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is that English is a living language, and that haiku is simply a collection of 17 syllables, each from a pool of all possible syllables in the language. While this is very simplistic, and throwing random syllables together is unlikely to produce words let alone meaning, it does future proof against new words that may turn up. And it does provide a maximum number. So how many syllables are there in English? Turns out that I couldn't find any definitive answer, but I did find an article here http://semarch.linguistics.fas.nyu.edu/barker/Syllables/index.txt which again is kind of a worst case scenario. The author refers to 15,831 syllable candidates. This does seem rather large, but I'd be interested if someone else had any good sources on something more accurate. So if we take this worst case of 15,831 syllable candidates, and we have 17 positions to fill, again using a worst case scenario that any syllable can follow any syllable, we end up with 17^15,831 unique haiku - which will include both the nonsense ones and also every possible sensible haiku. It did take a while to find a calculator that wasn't going to fall over punching in that kind of number. Luckily, Wolfram Alpha was obliging and came up with 1.7*10^19479. A stupidly large number. How stupidly large? Well... let's compare it to some other things. For the bridge players out there, there are 5.4*10^28 unique bridge deals. For the chess players, it's estimated that there are 1*10^120 unique chess games. So I'd like to make the number more accurate, but I'm not sure how. Any suggestions? Maybe if I could find the average number of syllables in a word (not in a normal distribution, but across the english language), I could use that and the total number of unique words. Any other ideas?