Tuesday, September 25

I mean it! (This is why we have the internet)

To find out that there's a common scream in the movies called the Wilhelm Scream, and to be able to hear it and see a montage of movies that use it (especially George Lucas). You'll never hear that scream the same way again!

Monday, September 24

Brú na Bóinne: Some facts

Here's an interesting fact about the builders of Brú na Bóinne: they had moved beyond subsistence living. It's hard to imagine they would have put so much effort into building if they were eking out an existence. Much effort was obviously diverted from the material basics of life. Unless they were absolutely compelled by their religious beliefs, surplus is the best hypothesis.

Myself, I wondered if the arrival of the Celts in Ireland could have had anything to do with the construction of these tombs. But the timing is probably wrong. Maybe the people associated with the Tuatha de Danann?

There are theories based on what art is used when and possible connections with continental art, specifically Brittany and Iberia. Could there be a relationship with the Kurgan mound builders of early Indo-European civilization?

Interestingly, archaeologists believe the earliest megalithic art at Brú na Bóinne was
made by the original, Irish, neolithic inhabitants. The original art was simple, while later art was more sophisticated. In fact, sometimes later art was superimposed over original art.

The time of the construction of the passage tombs was approximately 3300-3100 BC. Archaeologists guess that the tombs continued to be used for their original purposes untill 2900 or 2800 BC.

The timber circles at Knowth and Newgrange were constructed and used in the range of 2600-2400 BC.

Have I mentioned yet that Brú na Bóinne is older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids? True, they are larger undertakings and accomplishments, but Brú na Bóinne is quite impressive for 4th millenium, neolithic Irish.

Here's an interesting paragraph on Irish prehistory:
From the Irish perspective the earliest "Irishmen" have been found to be located in the West of Ireland, and to have strong genetic links with the Iberian Peninsula, going back presumably to the beginnings of the megalithic. It is worth keeping in mind that the astronomical studies of the post-4000 BC period would be equally applicable to navigation as to agriculture. Accounts of voyages such as the Aeneid, the Odyssey, and the Argonauts have many references to star navigation -- they did not have to wait for the compass.
(Speculation at this source, too, on who the emigres to Ireland were in ancient times.)

The other major tomb of Brú na Bóinne is Dowth. We did not visit, it is not in good shape, and has not been fully excavated or restored. So I won't be writing much about it.

Sunday, September 23

Brú na Bóinne continued: Knowth

One note from the last post (and the main reason I took such pains to put in the River Mattock): when you count the mattock, Brú na Bóinne is more than 75% enclosed by rivers. This must have been significant to the builders.

Newgrange and Dowth were created to line up with the sun of the Winter Solstice. Knowth lines up with the Autmnal Equinox.

We toured Knowth first and it was wonderful. Our guide was really excellent. Unfortunately, we were not able to enter the passages and tombs at Knowth as we later were able to do at Newgrange.

Do you have a feel for how these tombs were created? They were sited based on the position of the sun. Then the kerbstones and orthostats (large, upright stones) were placed with lintels between the orthostats forming the passage. In the case of tombs like Newgrange, the central chamber was created from corbelled stones, overlapped then held in place by the subsequent mound.

Each of the main sites covers about an acre of ground and average 10m in height. The mounds themselves consist of alternating layers of redeposited sod, loose stones, and boulder-clay.

Much is made of the neolithic, megalithic art of the tombs, but I myself, obviously, found that much less interesting than the engineering and siting of the tombs themselves.

The sites were often subsequently utilized or altered, but I'm not that interested in that 'recent' history.

Knowth is so richly decorated 'It is reckoned that one quarter of all Europe's neolithic art is held within.' [source]

One of the most interesting things about Knowth is the 18 smaller mounds situated so close to it.
Here's another website about Knowth.

Nice picture of the eastern passage at Knowth:

Intro to Brú na Bóinne

I'm really into ancient history and prehistory. In researching our trip to Ireland, I found out that some of the most significant prehistoric sites in the world are in County Meath.

I wanted to go to County Meath, anyway, because that is supposedly the provenance of our family name (though our Meades didn't emigrate from that area of Ireland, having already moved west). In fact, 'Meath' is often pronounced 'Meade' with the 'th' shortened to 'd'.

Plus, we were going to spend the majority of our time in Dublin, and County Meath is just the next one up. Easy to get to.

Brú na Bóinne (Palace of the Boyne) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area is rich with neolithic structures, the greatest of which are the three megalithic passage tombs of Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth.

Okay, I went to look for a map for you and totally spazzed out on Google Maps.

I mostly followed this map. Here's another one.

I guess what happened is I found this map but was not satisfied.

More to come...

Back from our big trip

I had to be in London for business, so Christine and I added a side trip to Dublin. We left for London on the Monday the 10th of September and flew to Dublin on Saturday the 15th. We flew back home Wednesday the 19th.

So here's a link to our pictures. More to come soon.

Friday, September 14

Someone saved (someone saved, someone saved) my life [Monday] night

I had the worst case of hiccups I have ever had. I could not sleep. I couldn't even get into bed for fear of waking Christine. I tried to watch some Monday Night Football, to relax, to surf a little bit. No good.

So, finally, in deperation, I Googled best hiccup cure, and I found it.

The 30 Second Cure for Hiccups worked for me as advertised and I could only have been more grateful if I had been better rested.

Sunday, September 9

Quick update

Jim's got some good commentary on my last post. Check it out. Thanks, Jim!

Saturday, September 8

Musical soccer education

+ Ken had an interesting post about a kind of musical notation for people who don't know much about music theory. You communicate the tune simply by whether each interval is up, down, or the same.

+ Read in Sports Illustrated about a 9 year old soccer star who got invited to Man U's academy when his dad sent in a highlight DVD. Great control, good crossover, good spin move.

+ Shane had a post about education that reminded me I'd been meaning to ask him and Mark their opinion of homeschooling from an educational (v. religious) standpoint. Mark's answer was awesome (he's a professional educator), and Shane subsequently posted it:

Speaking analytically and from close to 20 years of firsthand professional experience, the public school system's fundamental problems are an anachronistic orientation (Agrarian calendar, industrial mass production, and Taylorist model, hierarchical control), a breakdown of the home to school social contract and iniquitous, unreliable & irrational funding mechanisms disconnected from the system's legally required objectives. There are other problems, naturally, but those are the major systemic stumbling blocks to wholesale improvement.

That being said, it is not obvious to me that the primary alternatives to public education are any better when measured with identical yardsticks (surprisingly, often they are worse). Those that are (usually idiosyncratic programs of high quality) suffer from a lack of scalability. You just can't set up a top-notch Montessori program for 75 million kids - in fact, it's tough to do so for 75. Anything that is scalable - like curricular reforms and high standards featured by many charter schools - can be done more efficiently in public education for reasons of economies of scale. The only reason it isn't done is lack of political will and budget.

Homeschooling works best when the parents are exceedingly motivated and well educated, and their children are young and intellectually curious. Many home schoolers abandon the effort when their kids hit junior high and high school and the subject matter becomes more specialized - these kids either come to me performing well-above grade level (about 25-30%) or below grade level due to significant gaps in content knowledge because Mom really didn't understand fractions or the Civil War or whatever and skipped teaching it.

Catholic schools vary in quality these days just like public schools because the number of members of religious orders teaching in them (highly educated folks working cheap) has declined severely. In Illinois for example, St. Ignatius College Prep is a top high school but the average Catholic high School here is staffed by secular teachers who weren't good enough to find jobs in the public school system. What Catholic schools offer as a system that public schools do not is a culture, discipline and a sense of identity that some people find valuable (and a leg up in applying to Notre Dame, DePaul, Gonzaga etc.).

Other private schools, military academies etc. tend to be highly specialized in terms of mission.

Essentially, instead of judging which system is best, I'd look at what specific schools are available in your area and select the one that is relatively better than the others. If they are about even, save yourself a bundle of cash and use the public school system - unless safety/discipline is a concern.

What a great answer from Mark!

One thing that occurs to me upon re-reading is something I read in Ray Baake one time: If your local public school is unsatisfactory, supplement it with classes, trips, tutoring, lessons, etc. You'll still save a bundle over private school.

One of my major objections to public school is all the wasted time. I object in principle to the inefficiency (v. homeschooling). But that objection, in itself, is, obviously, not finally determinative.

Civ IV quotes

Have I mentioned how much I get a kick out of the fact that 'iv' is redoubled in 'Civ IV'; and that Wil noticed it, too, on his own; and that 'Civ V' and 'Civ(i) VI' will also redouble? Normally I'm not real into Roman numerals, but I'm making an exception in this case ;-)

More Civ geekery: I really like the tech quotes in Civ IV, even more than the fact that they're read by Leonard Nimoy. So, I came up with a list of my favorites (the complete list ):

"Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it."
- Publius Syrius

"The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy."
- Unknown

"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public."
- Adam Smith

"Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies."
- Thomas Jefferson

"You can get more of what you want with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word."
- Al Capone

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
- Benjamin Franklin

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
- Winston Churchill

"Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe."
- Albert Einstein

"Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual responsibility."
- Ambrose Bierce

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."
- Dom Helder Camara

"You would make a ship sail against the winds and currents by lighting a bon-fire under her deck? I have no time for such nonsense."
- Napoleon, on Robert Fulton's Steamship

"People can have the Model T in any color - so long as it's black."
- Henry Ford

"The great masses of the people... will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one."
- Adolf Hitler

"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
- Frederick the Great

"Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in car."
- E.B. White

"We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."
- Thomas Edison

"The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."
- Oscar Wilde

"Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window."
- Steve Wozniak

"Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child which carries the heavy burden of genetic disease."
- Bob Edwards

"The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether men do."
- B.F. Skinner

"The future will be better tomorrow."
- Dan Quayle

Controversy is the spice of life

+ Petraeus for president. I wish the general all the best. He seems like a very solid, smart guy. (Here's his latest letter to his troops , in advance of his coming report in Washington on the surge.)

+ I'm really excited about this method of searching only recent results in Google. Not sure yet if it's game-changing for me or not...

+ Have you seen that Ben Stein (Bueller? Bueller? Something economics. Voodoo economics) is coming out with a movie critical of the lack of openness in the scientific community to the claims of intelligent design? Here's his first post (with >1000 comments). I may actually go see it in the theater...

+ NBC and Apple have divorced over sales in iTunes and NBC has shacked up on the rebound with Amazon . I love Amazon, but they don't have 75% market share like Apple. Betcha NBC sells a lot fewer episodes.

Monday, September 3

Happy etymology day

+ Dontcha just hate deceiving etymologies? Take 'solecism'. The definition points toward something related to 'sole' or 'solo', no?

1.a nonstandard or ungrammatical usage, as unflammable and they was.  
2.a breach of good manners or etiquette.  
3.any error, impropriety, or inconsistency.


1577, from M.Fr. solécisme, from L. soloecismus "mistake in speaking or writing," from Gk. soloikismos "to speak (Greek) incorrectly," from soloikos "ungrammatical utterance," prop. "a speaking like the people of Soloi," from Soloi, Athenian colony in Cilicia, whose dialect the Athenians considered barbarous.

+ Here's a cool one: egregious:

c.1534, from L. egregius, from the phrase ex grege "rising above the flock," from ex "out of" + grege, abl. of grex "herd, flock." Disapproving sense, now predominant, arose 16c., originally ironic and is not in the L. word, which etymologically means simply "exceptional."

Egregious derives from Latin egregius, separated or chosen from the herd, from e-, ex-, out of, from + grex, greg-, herd, flock. Egregious was formerly used with words importing a good quality (that which was distinguished "from the herd" because of excellence), but now it is joined with words having a bad sense. It is related to congregate (to "flock together," from con-, together, with + gregare, to assemble, from grex); segregate (from segregare, to separate from the herd, from se-, apart + gregare); and gregarious (from gregarius, belonging to a flock).

Didn't know it had so much to do with the group. And now I can link 'congregation', 'segregate', 'aggregate', 'gregarious', etc. Sweet!

+ Did you know maudlin comes from Mary Magdalene always pictured as crying?

+ One more thought on Krzyzewski and the national team, which crushed again yesterday: Does this mean Coach K could really make it in the NBA, or is the patriotism a major factor?

Sunday, September 2

Sunday Sports

+ Bummed to see Rodney Harrison busted for banned substances. The drive to perform and win in the NFL inspires a lot of bad choices.

+ Iowa and Carolina won their openers, though not without concerns. At least the Iowa running game looked good.

+ App State beat Michigan at the Big House. Wholey moley! Good for them!

+ Krzyzewski has the national team righted; they crushed their opponents in Olympic qualifying. What a relief.

+ Red Sox rook throws a no hitter in his second game after being called up to the bigs. Guess he'll stay a while.