The Price Of Awesome

I just watched a guy jump out of a tiny box at 40km altitude and plummet to Earth to break some kind of record or other. And it was awesome, as are all attempts at pushing human limits and bringing some sense of wonder into this grey and generally shitty world.

And meanwhile, on Facebook, whingers are whinging. In the comments to a status update made by Wil Wheaton, one lady said the following:

RandomIdiot: all of this money…could have been spent here on earth to help the homeless, feed children, house and cloth those in domestic violence……this makes absolutely NO sense to spend all of this money for something like this. what end??????money! money for red bull. makes me sick.

These people piss me the fuck off. These “feed the children” whingers who always pop up when stuff happens they don’t understand or agree with. You know what’s good about this particular event? Maybe a few kids somewhere will see it and think: “wow, that’s awesome, but what did all those big words they used really mean?”

Then maybe these kids will get an education and do something awesome for mankind one day. And not just rabbit on about how we should all be feeding the hungry, while then not doing it themselves.

And even if that doesn’t happen, this is still AWESOME. Just like the LHC, the Mars Curiosity rover, or sending people to the moon. It expands out minds. It makes us proud. It shows us what we as a species can do when we really try.

There are a great many things that money is wasted on in this world. Stupid TV shows. Homeopathy. Religion. Shoes. Fucking magic crystals. Not to mention bailing out banks when they gamble with your money and lose it (which lately cost the US something in the very general region of 700 billion dollars).

Note: I think we should be feeding the hungry. But we can do this and other things too.

Now the person who wrote that comment talks a lot about magic crystals on her Facebook page. She also mentions “our physical, emotional and spiritual bodies”. So money going to Red Bull is bad, but money spent on magic that doesn’t work, and can actually harm people, is good? Lady, you’re a fucking joke. Now go away.

Give us our sense of wonder. Give us the moon and the stars and a world that fascinates and intrigues. Give us all those things that open our eyes and make us share something as humans. And shove your fucking crystals, your magic beans, and your tarot cards in whatever hole most appeals to you.

/ paddy

Mars Day

Tonight I ate a Mars bar and a bowl of muesli for dinner. I didn’t even wash the bowl. That’s exactly what I thought being an adult would be like. Excellent.

In other Mars-related news, the Curiosity rover sent back some new amazing snaps. It really feels like somebody is up there, with a nice camera, just checking it out and sending us emails.

It looks a bit alien, but also familiar, and hence a bit freaky. Because we can see that Mars is an actual physical place. With ground and rocks and dust, just like here. And the universe is full of places. Worlds beyond counting. So let’s get out there and see them, shall we?

Or maybe stay here and spend the money on fucking roads and bank bailouts instead.

/ paddy

Smart Card Fail

The Stockholm local transit people (SL) introduced a so-called smart card over  a year ago, and called it SL Access. Now, usually anything that SL introduces costs a pile of money and doesn’t work. We kind of expect it to be that way.

And, true to form, as SL were about to introduce their expensive system it became clear that the technology used, the Mifare RFID card system, had been hacked. The details of this are all over the net now. “Mifare hack” will get you started. It’s fair to say that this is not a good system, and as leaky as a sieve full of sponges.

Still life with RFID chip

It works like this, for those who don’t know. You “load” your card (or more correctly you update a database somewhere using your cards ID) and then swipe your whole wallet, with the card inside, over the reader. It’s actually a nifty system, despite the whole not-secure aspect, as you avoid having to dig out the card every time.

I noticed, by turning the card a certain way, that you can see the chip. It was about 5 mm across which, for the Americans, just means very small.So I reasoned if it could be removed from the card, then it could be put into more interesting objects that one could swipe across the reader.

Such as a head. Or a banana. Or a Mars bar. You get the idea.

Unfortunately, once extracted, the chip doesn’t work. A quick googlement showed that there is a thin antenna wire connecting to the chip that circles the perimeter of the card. This interacts with a magnetic field over the reader using good old-fashioned induction and transfers the data required. No wire, no data.

So it’s back to the drawing board with that one. Would be nice however to get me some hardware and hack the thing properly. I figure, in the interests of helping SL improve their security, it’s the only kind thing to do.

/ paddy

Earth Hour Suspended

I skipped out on “Earth Hour” last night. And I’ll tell you why.

The problem is that it doesn’t do anything. It’s like most knee-jerk guilty “green” things – GMO hysteria, recycling, non-shopping day, organic food – in that it is a way for guilt-makers to show us how morally superior they are but, on close scientific inspection, does little if nothing of any use.

Turning off the lights for one hour? And using candles instead? Wonderful – replace our highly efficient modern lighting with combustion, a real plus in terms of CO2 and particle emissions, not to mention that the majority of modern candles are made from paraffin, a product of the oil industry. So you will be replacing electricity that may have come from sustainable source with a fossil fuel. Brilliant. Slow clap for you.

Can’t the vocal green preachers get one simple fact into their heads—you cannot bring about real change by making people feel bad and guilty about their behaviour. That only works for a while, and there will always be a backlash. A change will only work if it roughly follows human nature. And humans, by and large, don’t like the dark. Humans DO however like to consume and save money, so why the fuck can’t we just have “Buy LED lights” day instead? That would make a much bigger difference, and on EVERY day.

And to say that this “send a message to our leaders”? No it doesn’t – does anybody really believe that? Like our “leaders” care about pointless actions like this. Big laugh.

And if we’re turning off anything, I would start with TVs. Fucking irritating noise-box full of morons and their jolly japes, or block-headed “sporting events” of no consequence whatsoever, or news programmes telling us how worried and nervous we should be. Get rid of the fucker—just throw it out!

We already, in fact, have a TV-turn-off day (okay, so it’s a week) but does the media pay attention to it? Of course they fucking don’t. The media only like things that show how caring and important they are. Like this global backslapping of Earth Hour. I’m sure the Co2, if any, saved by this was more than made up for by news teams farting around the planet to film it all and feeling smug about their efforts.

But then again a billion people turning off their TVs would not make good TV. Would it?

Don’t get me wrong, I love darkness. I love it when the incessant noise of electronic crap is stilled, and we can see the stars and each other. A few months back we had a power cut in my area for about 4 hours, and I was never happier. Life is simply too bright, too loud, too garish, too fucking WAAAAH! for my tastes.

So turn it off please, by all means—your TV, your computer, your stereo. Even your fridge, which most of us barely use at all. But not light! Keep your lights on and use them to read a fucking book or build something from Lego or play a real game that isn’t made of pixels or draw up plans to destroy our global moronic media infestation.

Here’s to Brain Turn-on Day, hopefully coming your way soon.

/ paddy

Local Newspaper Disappointment

This site was suggested to me recently. And it has quickly become a huge favourite of mine.

It’s in Swedish, so feel free to slip out the back door if you want.

So, it’s a blog called “Dagens Lokaltidningsbesvikelse” or “The day’s local newspaper disappointment”.

It specialises in those pathetic articles from small newspapers concerning idiots and the trivial things that make them sad.

You know the ones I mean:

“Billy, 53, had to wait three weeks for his phone to be repaired”.

Or: “Alice is annoyed by the ducks in the garden.” That kind of thing, but worse.

The site gives four basic rules for the articles it will accept. They must:

  1. Concern a trivial problem
  2. Have a photo of the affected person, with family if possible
  3. Who will have a forced look, head askew, and a pathetic sad face
  4. Must be from a local paper or, in a pinch, a national gutter rag

Examples of the side-splitting misery from this site include the guy who doesn’t like dog shit, the ladies who were expelled from the sushi buffet for eating only the fish, the woman who cries because of the pile of snow outside her window, and the guy in a wheelchair who is made feel handicapped by the excess of snow.

It just goes to show that newspapers, as if we didn’t already know, are shit, and that the vast majority of “news” in them is meaningless crap that only is there to fill space. But if we don’t feel sorry for these everyday morons, then at least we can have a good laugh at them.

See moron. See moron run. Run moron run.

(Except the wheelchair guy, obviously.)

/ paddy

A Farewell to Fores

Many moons ago I applied for a job at a Swedish organisation called Fores. This is a green liberal think-tank who want to focus on solving our severe environmental problems by encouraging both big and small business to get involved.

vertical wind turbineNow regardless of your political leanings (and I am not at all sure of mine these days) this seemed like a fine idea and a great opportunity, even though the position itself was part-time and a bit vaguely defined.

However the people at Fores turned down my finely crafted application, told me the position basically did not exist any more, and sent me in return a question that went like this:

“Do you know anything about Macs? Because we need somebody to help us keep our Mac network working”.

Which unfortunately told me everything I needed to know about this workplace.

So today I wandered into their site to see how they are getting on and I stumbled onto their scientific advisory board. And my jaw slid open and remained there.

wool-over-eyesCheck it out here. From of a list of  20 people, 2 of them are actual scientists and a further 2 are so vaguely defined that they may or may not be.

The remainder are economists, political scientists (not much to do with science, I think you will agree) and various scattered disciplines far removed from science and technology.

For the love of Jove, they even have a “Gender Researcher”, surely the bottom of the barrel when it comes to academic disciplines.

Conclusion: The “scientific advisors” are not at all scientists, and any advice they offer will be pretty hard to swallow. Which makes the whole idea kind of pointless.

So sorry Fores, but you’re just not pulling any wool over any eyes.

So the lessons to be learned here are:

  • Don’t promise things you can’t deliver
  • Don’t try and offer us scientific advice from non-scientists
  • Don’t fill an office with people who only know how to use Macs
  • Don’t turn Paddy down for a job and expect to get away unscathed

/ paddy

Four Stone Hearth Volume #78

Hello. And welcome to another drunken stagger through the halls of anthropology and archaeology. I am your host, Paddy K, and I am here to shower you with bones. Lots of bones.

So then, without further stalling for wordage, let’s introduce the experts, who have lots of clever things to say about things that I barely understand.

Experts, take it away!



First off,  the folks over at Archaeopop tell us a tale about the Nefertiti bust and the attempts to return it to Egypt. Of course this tale also features the Egyptian Indiana Jones, Dr. Zahi Hawass (and I only say that because I know that archaeologists just love hearing about Indiana Jones).


Next, those nice people over at Radio Lab discuss the ways in which language and music are connected. Haven’t you heard of Radio Lab? Go there. Now. And never return.


Future retro is one of my own favourite areas. This is, basically, the reverse of archaeology – what did people from the past think the future would look like? Head on over to Paleo Future to see the latest snippets of retro futurism. For example, where are all the flying cars, eh? Eh?


Eric at The Primate Diaries discusses how birth control for women may be affecting the way they pick their partners, as well as their bits on the side, their bits on top and even their bits underneath.


And speaking of smut (and we were, weren’t we? Well I generally am) I am always tickled by the very existence of the “unsuitable material” rooms at the British Museum. This is where 3 centuries of twitchy curators have placed their kinky material that the ladies might have swooned at, effectively removing it from the popular historical record and making the Victorians believe that all previous ages were as prudish as they were.


Martin Rundkvist gets his nose to the grindstone and takes us on a trip to look at a burnt mound. And if anybody knows their way around a burnt mound, it’s Martin.




Mathilda over at her eponymous blog wants to put white supremacists straight on a few things. And so what if it’s from a year ago? It’s still good stuff.


And of course I simply have to include Glen from Paleoglot, since I never have the faintest idea what he’s talking about. And I find that kind of refreshing.


Ciarán over at Ad Hominin explains why hominid evolution in the Middle Pleistocene is a great big bloody mess, with many theories, lots of species and not very many bones to back it up with.


TED continues to pump out mind expanding talks at a terrifying rate. Talks in the area of anthropology/archaeology are thin on the ground, but here’s one I enjoyed,  on skin colour in humans. And then there’s Louise Leakey, talking about nothing less than digging for the origins of humanity.


Over at A Hot Cup of Joe, we learn something about the reaction of the Creationist “community” to the unearthing of Ardipithecus ramidus. Further evidence that they should, you know, just shut the hell up.


Neuroanthropology present us with a primer on, you guessed it, neuroanthrolpology. And that word is so long it doesn’t even appear in my spell-checker.


And finally I, for my part, have been considering the classification and behaviour of different road-users. Field research, if you will. But on the road. And not in a field.


So that appears to be that. Tune in the next time at…hang on, the next slot on November 4th is vacant! Vacant, I tell you! Come on now, get the finger out and host the damned thing.

Just contact Martin Rundqvist to make a date with destiny!

The next time I do this blog carnival, it will be a swimsuit edition. So people, you have been warned – start hitting the bench press and warm up the baby oil because I’ll expect you all to be nice and buff. I know I will be. Deal?

/ paddy

Nina JablonskiNina Jabolski

Mad Scientists (1)

J. B. S. Haldane is mad scientist of the day. Born 1892, he was naturally interested in a whole lot of things (as were most learned gentlemen of the day) and did pioneering work in the effects of high pressure on human bodies. This work was vital in understanding how the human body reacted when, for example, diving, and it was not a sure thing that divers of that era would return to the surface with their minds and/or bodies intact.

haldaneTo do this work Haldane used a scary-looking metal chamber, where he could put his victims and watch them squirm as he increased the air pressure and introduced carbon monoxide and/or elevated levels of oxygen.

He was also happy to jump into the pressure chamber himself and suffered numerous injuries from his experiments, including near-lethal gas poisoning, damaged ribs and the occasionally blown-out ear drum.

Which brings us to the quote by which we should remember this great man:

“The drum generally heals up; and if a hole remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment”

Mad scienists – now where would we be without them?

/ paddy

Myth of the Day

A long and pleasant autumn walk yesterday brought up the myth about the baby birds. You know the one I mean – “Don’t pick up the little bird because then its mother will abandon it!”

Now I had heard this story my whole life and had not actually questioned it until now. Such is the power of the myth. But it occurred to me yesterday that this is an astoundingly stupid survival strategy.

Would this behaviour give any evolutionary advantage at all to a bird? I can’t think of one. And most things that do not bestow an evolutionary advantage will not be around any more. That’s why you don’t see birds hopping, swimming or driving Segways – they probably tried, at one stage, but it didn’t work and they were dispatched in a hurry by predators.

So a quick web search showed this to be the case. See here and here, and, oh, loads of other places. Birds do NOT abandon their young if a human picks them up. However, if you disturb the nest too much when returning the baby then the mother might abandon the whole nest. And the baby bird will probably just jump out again anyway, because they are dumb little beasties.

So my motto for life continues intact – don’t believe a damned anything just because a lot of people tell you that it’s true. Find evidence, find experts, and then sort through the evidence and base your opinion on reason and fact.

Simple, effective, and practically guaranteed to close down a whole lot of churches.

/ paddy

Cavemen and Dictators

I have always been of the opinion that the Neanderthals got a bad deal. Since they weren’t around to write the anthropology books, they were of course typecast as the bad guys. Or, at least, as the very dumb guys.

The story usually presented is that our near-relatives were wiped out by Homo sapiens sapiens and their superior technology (microwaves and nose-hair trimmers and the like). The poor dumb Neanderthals just couldn’t adapt to our frenetic gadgetry and found themselves booking tickets on the big mother-of-pearl Elvish ferry into the West.

However New Scientist likes to burst clichés such as this and the new evidence suggest that Neanderthal technology (ie. rock and pieces of rock) was comparable to and possibly better than that of our ancestors. So whatever caused them to disappear, it was not their inferior cutting and striking surfaces. Maybe they were just bad morning people.

And, while on the subject of pre-humans, here is a very scary piece of info about the leader of the free world (or, as I like to call him, the Hindmost). Apparently the provisions are in place in the US for a declaration of Martial Law. To quote the article in question:

New legislation signed on May 9, 2007, declares that in the event of a “catastrophic event”, the President can take total control over the government and the country, bypassing all other levels of government at the state, federal, local, territorial and tribal levels, and thus ensuring total unprecedented dictatorial power.

Well that’s nice then. Now all that remains is to work out a definition of “catastrophic event” that we can all agree on. And hope that Furious George doesn’t find one in the next 6 months or so.

That’s it, off you go now.

/ paddy

Bitter Leaves

I have a problem with bitterness. Not of the soul (well, not only) but of the food.

I have never liked truly bitter tastes. I love sour – sour is my buddy, and rhubarb is my bitch – but bitter has always eluded me. I failed to see why people were getting so enthusiastic over rocket (Swedish: ruccola) for example – to me it was just a horrible form of salad, which gave a horrendous chemical after-taste. Or Brussels sprouts. Or grapefruit – grapefruit always made me queasy.

And then I discovered that it was not just me – it was my genes. I wish that all of life’s problems can be blamed on lack of genes, but this one can apparently. In this case, the lack of a bitter taste receptor gene.

Apparently 25% of people are unable to taste a chemical called propylthiouracil, which causes the rancid bitterness in bitter foods. These people like bitter things while other people like me- the majority, I may add – can’t stand them.

So it’s not that we have a less developed palate, it’s simply that the rest of you are fucking mutants. So suck on that, grapefruit boy.

/ paddy

Suck My Vitamins

I always love it when a commonly-held belief turns out to be crap. And now the latest evidence shows that vitamin and antioxidant supplements can actually be harmful.

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Our bodies are chemical machines, and introducing large amounts of chemicals that are usually only required in trace amounts is quite clearly a terrible idea. And, when I think about about it, it is obvious that humans have developed to obtain their nutrients and vitamins from their food, and not from highly concentrated artificial sources.

As Michael Pollan summaries in his book “In Defense Of Food”: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables plants.”

And Mr. Pollan is right – eating is not really all that complicated. Just eat mixed food, not too much of anything, as little processed food as possible, and get some fucking exercise. And then you can enjoy a long and happy life which you can use to ridicule people and things that annoy you in a public forum.

It’s what life is all about.

/ paddy