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Journal of jhi (318)

Sunday April 28, 2002
05:31 PM

Grod!

I've got a new cozy home.
Friday March 08, 2002
10:29 AM

Ubar, condensed

Elaine happened upon an article which is basically a warp-speed version of The Road To Ubar of which I raved earlier. The story of the map of Ptolemy still grips me.

Thursday March 07, 2002
06:36 PM

how gibibytes do you have?

Stop wallowing in sin and talking about "gigabytes": IEC has solved the problem that has allowed hard disk vendors for years to inflate their capacity claims.

While you are at it, consider how many yottaatoms there are in the universe.

Wednesday March 06, 2002
06:07 PM

The Elusive Camel

I'm certain this is a boooringly old joke for the London.pm crowd...
but I still find it amusing.

Wednesday February 20, 2002
11:33 PM

sushi garnish

Have you ever considered that somewhere in Japan there must a machine that is dedicated to spewing out all that pointy plastic grass imitation inside sushi boxes?

Tuesday February 05, 2002
06:25 PM

Goodbye, Sheba, hello, Pylos

I finally finished the book I mentioned earlier, and I wasn't disappointed. Nicholas Clapp saunters around in the deserts of Southern Arabia, mountains of Ethiopia, (the old Coptic churches of Lalibela carved straight from the rocks) not to forget the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, in search of the elusive legend of the Queen of Sheba, Balkis/Bilqis. No conclusive results, but in archaeology one rarely gets those, but one gets an interesting travelogue at least.

A curious connection to current events is that the land of Saba (that's how its spelt in languages other than English) is in the area of Yemen, one of the troubled Islamic areas: bin Laden family is originally from areas of Saudi-Arabia close to the mountainous corner where Yemen is. The Yemeni tribes are still practically feudal: local little wars, killing government officials just because, honor killings, taking people for ransom, are still very much in fashion. But Clapp went in (with his wife and friends!) and did small-scale research on the ruins of Marib. Marib had a huge dam (720m long, 60m wide at the base) built starting from about 2000 BC. The Marib dam broke because of series of earthquakes in 600-something-CE, which gave a final deathblow to the kingdom/queendom, that had flourished for 3000 years, mainly based on the irrigation system that fed 30 000 people (back then that was a huge city), and on frankincense trade.

The next book in the pile is about deciphering Linear B, an ancient syllabary for writing ancient Greek (the most archaic Greek we know), from close to one millennium before the Iliad and Odyssey (Trojan War, for which I recommend In Search of the Trojan War) were written down, from times of the Mycenaean/Minoan culture (when the Trojan war, if there ever was such a thing, took place). The decipherment of the Linear B script was done by an English architect Michael Ventris in 1950's, and at least one way it was much more brilliant work than deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs by Champollion, because there was no Rosetta stone (that is, the same text in several languages) helping the deciphering-- and in this case, neither did they know in which language the Linear B texts were written, not a single word, none. They had several (but conflicting) candidates: Etruscan, Hittite, some unknown Indo-European, ... Greek was a very distant (and disapproved by Authorities) possibility. Ventris wasn't scared and attacked the texts armed with linguistics and statistics, and figured out things like "this must be plural of that other thing", progressing to "this could be past tense of a verb"... and finally, after years of diligent work, nothing else than an extremely archaic form of Greek fit the texts.

I've been to Knossos and Mycenae, and been on a bus by Pylos (another Mycene city in Peloponnesos), which is where the large majority of the Linear B tablets were found, so I'm curious to see what people who lived there thousands of years ago were up to. (Unfortunately, it seems that they were up to war.)

Monday January 28, 2002
02:13 PM

Things you can find in Ebay...

02:02 PM

It was a dark and stormy night...

The Bulwer-Lytton results of 2001!

Friday January 25, 2002
12:49 AM

sense of wonder

It has been long since I've experienced genuine sense of wonder. What I mean by this is some kind of revelation, seeing something in full, in its full splendour, grasping something complex in all its details (well, all that matter to you), somewhat like seeing a mountain in the night but briefly illuminated by a lightning. You see it all for a moment, every detail sharp, then it's gone. Maybe it's because I've been hunched over Perl for too long; maybe it's because I'm growing older (and more cynical, though many people would say that this would be impossible) and less receptive. I've been neglecting my books, old and new (oh, how many new unread ones I have waiting) for far too long. (I guess at this point I'm supposed to fondle something in my pocket.)

What count as "revelations", then? A really motley crew, of intellectual and emotional flashes of lightning. As a kid: reading about and grokking the hydrological cycle (ocean - rain - rivers), finishing the Lord of the Rings, the Earthsea, a book about LISP; as I started travelling: Stonehenge, El Capitan, the pyramids of Giza, recently, the Uluru-- some books, like the Cavalli-Sforza and Jared Diamond books, the chaos books by Cohen and Stewart, the Assassin series from Robin Hobb, the Legend by David Gemmell.

Oh well, I better get finished with this 5.8 business, so that I can start whittling down my mountain range of books, and consider travelling again, now that I have someone to travel with.

Tuesday January 15, 2002
09:06 PM

CIA World Factbook

Neatness! The CIA World Factbook is available as a single downloadable zip archive, inside which is the factbook as it is on the CIA website, with all the content as HTML, and images (maps and flags) as JPG/PDF. If you prefer pressed dead vegetation, you are lucky, too.