Some Thoughts on “The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy”

Tags

, , , ,

A snowy field with construction cranes in the distant background beyond a fence

Violet Blue, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy: Practical Tips for Staying Safe Online (No Starch Press: San Francesco CA, 2015) Digita Publications

Writer and journalist Violet Blue is working on a new edition of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy. So even though its a little bit late for Data Protection Day on 28 January, I think its time to dust off my review. Her book has a clear and distinct vision of its audience, and avoids the traps which most writers on security and privacy fall in to.

Continue reading

Too Many People for the Land, or Too Much Land for the King?

Tags

, , , ,

Herodotus’ Cyrus (9.122.3) said that soft lands birth softies. I don’t think he was thinking of Tirol! Looking west at the Alps south of Innsbruck, September 2019.

A very popular story today explains that when people learn agriculture, they quickly breed to fill the landscape and got hungrier and hungrier until a war or a plague came. In this view, peasant life was a zero-sum game and shaped by the scarcity of land and the ability of those who claimed it to squeeze resources from those who worked it: there just was not enough land for everyone to have enough to eat, and if a village cleared woods or turned hillsides into rice paddies and harvested four bushels where they used to harvest three, before too long there would be four villagers where there used to be three and they would all be hungry again. This has been strengthened by archaeologists studying the first farmers and people working in poor countries since 1945, but the core idea goes back to the Reverend Thomas Malthus in 1834 and to early population historians who saw that every 200 years the population of England was high and wages were low until disaster drastically reduced the population and a period of low population and high wages began. This story is a good match for part of the historical record, but people who look at other parts tell other stories.
Continue reading

Be Careful with Rein Taagepera’s Lists of Largest Empires

Tags

, , , , , ,

A map of Eurasia and Africa with biomes and ancient and medieval states marked

Isn’t this a cool map? The places where states which controlled at least a million square kilometers before 1800 were founded, from Turchin, “A Theory for the Formation of Large Empires.” Look how many there are in North China and Southwest Asia, and how few in Southeast Asia or Europe! (Although part of that is the fact that we treat the long history of the Byzantine and Roman empires as one thing, but each Mongol or Chinese dynasty as different)

After a chat with T. Greer of The Scholar’s Stage, I read an interesting article by Peter Turchin called “A theory for formation of large empires” (2009). He is curious whether other world regions show the same pattern as China of empires beginning in the steppe or in the neighbouring farmland not the richest and safest agricultural districts. As he says, a lot of research focuses on the decline and disintegration of empires, not so much how a single king can come to rule millions or tens of millions of people in the first place: why do some empires last centuries when most fall to pieces within decades?

Turchin catalogued 64 states until the year 1800 CE with an area of at least a million square kilometers, and found that “over 90% of historical mega-empires were located next to or within the Old World arid zone extending from the Sahara desert to the Gobi desert” (which is a slightly different claim than the one about steppe frontiers, but never mind). When I read his list, one line popped out at me:

A table with statistics on empires including Assyria, Media, Achaemenid Persian, Alexander's (Hellenistic), Seleucid, and Parthia

The table lists a Median empire with 2.8 million square kilometers in -585 (which is 586 BCE in Julian astronomical years with a year 0, but I think he means 585 BCE). That would have been as large as Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan combined. And the trouble is that such an empire probably did not exist, and if it did exist we don’t know its area.

Continue reading

The Rise of Europe or the Age of Imperialism?

Tags

, , ,

At some point in the 19th century, eight states controlled the vast majority of the earth’s surface and population (over the course of the century they lost ground in Central and South America but gained it in Asia, Africa, and North America). The eight consisted of four kingdoms and republics in the former Western Roman Empire (France, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom), two kingdoms which saw themselves as successors to the East Roman Empire (Russia and the Ottoman empire), one genocidal settler republic (USA), and the Middle Kingdom (Qinq China).

Academics in the USA spend a lot of time and paper marvelling about this fact and trying to explain why it occurred. They don’t talk a lot about the decolonization of Central and South America in the 19th century because what happened afterwards does not suit the triumphant story they want to tell.

At a random year in the 16th and 17th century, six dynasties controlled most of the population of the world and a large fraction of its territory: Ming/Qing in the Middle Kingdom, Mughal in South Asia and Afghanistan, Safavid in Iran, Ottoman, Rurik/Romanov in Russia, and Hapsburg in Europe and the New World.

Of the six, the first-rank powers were China, the Mughals, and the Ottomans, and the other three did their best to live in between while committing a little piracy here and delivering silver to the big boys there. Only one of the six was based in the former Western Roman Empire.

You can tell the story of the past 500 years in terms of the Rise of Atlantic Europe (and its genocidal settler states). But you can also tell it as an age of imperialism. And if you are ever, ever tempted to tell stories about how Your People were Special and Destined for Greatness from the Beginning, whether those stories are about Catholic marriage laws or made-up GDP statistics or “Freeedooom!!!” ask yourself if you would tell the same story in Delhi, Istanbul, or Beijing in 1600.

How the Greeks Got Battering Rams

Tags

, , ,

The hollow bronze head of a battering ram with a toothed striking surface and decorative rams' heads on the sides near the open back

This may have been part of the first battering ram deployed in Greece. It was made sometime in the 5th century BCE, around the time when later Greeks remembered battering rams were first deployed, and dedicated to Zeus at Olympia. Archaeological Museum, Olympia, object B2360 c/o https://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/208439

People who see the ancient Greeks as an especially progressive and technically advanced people have a lot to boast about, but they have to admit that their heroes were a bit backwards at siege engineering. We have pictures of battering rams from Egypt and Upper Mesopotamia dating back to the third millennium BCE, and Early Bronze Age texts which mention them from Ebla in Syria, and in the 18th century BCE petty kings like Zimri-Lim of Mari took them for granted and students in scribal colleges dutifully memorized the proper Sumerian names for all the parts, but they are absent from early Greek vase painting, absent from the Homeric epics, and absent from Greek traditions of their wars until the time of Pericles. That is about 2000 years later than the first evidence for battering rams from Syria and Egypt.

Greek stories about their early wars, and the archaeology of Iron Age Greece, make it clear that Greek soldiers were very eager to take and destroy walled cities, but apparently they were too impatient to sit outside a town for a few months while they built something the size and complexity of a small boat and pushed it through enemy fire against a wall or gate. People who admire the Greeks usually say a few words about the Assyrians as masters of siegecraft then slip into telling a triumphant story of Greek progress from humble beginnings.

Later Greeks and Romans did not know about the Mari letters or Old Kingdom tomb paintings, but they saw that their ancestors lacked the siege engines which were used in their own times, and they told two types of stories about How the Greeks Got Siege Engines.
Continue reading

The Decade Still Has a Year Left

Tags

, , ,

Friends! Netizens! Countrymen! The Dionysian era and the Common Era have no year 0 (because 0 did not exist in Europe when the Venerable Bede popularized numbering years by “the year of our lord”) so in those systems a decade runs from year 1 to year 10 and a century runs from year 1 to year 100. The 20th century runs from 1 January 1901 to 31 December 2000, and the 2010s run from 1 January 2011 to 31 December.

Unless you are an astronomer working in Julian days with a year 0 (= 1 BCE in the Common Era) the decade still has a year and a day left. If it were the other way round, then the first decade would only have 9 years (1 CE to 9 CE) and the first century would only have 99 years (1 CE to 99 CE) and all the others would have 10 or 100.

{this is a message from your local tablet scribe- if its really important, ask an expert in the scribal art}

{computer scientists- warning you against off-by-one errors since ENIAC}

2019 Year-Ender

Tags

, , , , , ,

A crowd gathered in a rainy street in the medieval centre of Innsbruck

A rainy Christmas Eve concert in Innsbruck, 2019

Books are precious things, and Doctor Manning finally has time to read them for fun again (and to really read them, not just skim them looking for facts or quotes). At the end of this year and the start of another, as I sit in rainy Innsbruck, I would like to tell my gentle readers about some of the ones I read in 2019.

I read Victoria Corva’s very relatable young adult fantasy Books and Bone (self-published, 2019) about a town cartographer trying to follow a vocation which she can’t prove is more than a myth.
Continue reading

Herodotus Didn’t Say That, Eduard Meyer Did

Tags

, , , ,

A view of a still lake and a cool sky from a stone breakwater

When I walked along the breakwater at Bregenz, I did not meet any old drunks willing to tell me the town’s terrible secrets for a tot of Schnapps, but that is a different winter story.

It has been too long since my last cheerful winter story, so on this Winter Solistice I will tell another.

Like the protagonist of a H.P. Lovecraft story, I came to Innsbruck to look for answers. The scholarship on Achaemenid armies in English was repetitive and fell apart at the first gentle question, but was there something more trustworthy in German? Duncan Head and Nicholas Sekunda cited all kinds of people who nobody else I was reading talked about. So I visited the wood-panelled Law Library reading room on the banks of a river named in a dead tongue, and borrowed an old copy of Eduard Meyer’s Geschichte des Altertums from a librarian who seemed surprised to have visitors. The first edition of Meyer’s Geschichte was completed in 1902, the last revision was in 1965 a generation after his death. Meyer tried to integrate the history of early Greece into the history of Egypt and Mesopotamia. And when I came to the following passage, I realized that the horrors were deeper and older than I had thought:
Continue reading

Dis Manibus Steven Johansson (20 September 2019)

Tags

, ,

Issue 269 of Knights of the Table magazine with an all-black cover except for the title and company logo

Some time in the late 1990s “Guys! The first time one of us dies, we have to give them an all-black cover on the magazine.” “I see what you are doing, you just want a promise before you step in front of a bus and get the coveted cover spot. Munchkin! Look, this Knights of the Dinner Table thing will be gone before any of us …”

Steven Konrad Johansson of Kenzer and Company, an Illinois comic book, board game, and roleplaying game company, died in his sleep on 20 September 2019. Major projects include editing, layout, and art design for Knights of the Dinner Table magazine (currently on its 269th monthly issue!), two editions of the Hackmaster RPG (especially the ten-volume Hacklopedia of Beasts), elements of the Kingdom of Kalamar RPG setting (hobgoblins, the Old Man, topography), the Western RPG Aces and Eights (also in two editions), and a career as an infantry officer in the United States Army Reserve (he retired as Major). Trying to stay in business in the RPG industry makes trying to launch an academic career look like selling water at Burning Man.

I have never met anyone in the Kenzerco family, but reading KotDT gave a younger me a glimpse of an exotic Midwestern world which made the ex-SCAdians I later met feel familiar. And I think the world needs more stories from that small-town, little-bit-of-college, some-kind-of-a-job place and about friendships between the broken, human people who live in it and the amazing things they do with their passion. You can find a full obituary at Colonial Funeral.

Comparing Lists of Works Cited with Regular Expressions

Tags

, , , ,

As part of a recent project, I had to compare my list and a co-author’s list of works cited in a chapter. Since we started five and a half years ago, one co-author dropped out and versions of the files got confused between different people in the project, some forthcoming publications had appeared or changed venues, and the first entries were written long before we had a style guide. It was very important to make sure that every work cited appeared in the bibliography, and to reduce the length of the chapter as much as possible by removing references to works which are not cited. Since the lists of works cited contained 150 and 180 entries, many of which fill several lines in print, comparing the two lists was going to be a tedious task. And so I turned to the powerful arts of a dead tongue which I had not invoked since I learned it from German and Indian adepts in a distant land: the language of shell scripting and regular expressions.

Continue reading