Author Archives: gmcdavid

About gmcdavid

Retired IT professional with a wide range of interests. Married. Three sons, two with autistic-spectrum disorders and the third being transgender with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. From Chicago but now living in the Twin Cities metro, Minnesota. Episcopalian. Carleton College (BA 1972, physics) and Stanford University (MS 1974, Applied Physics; MS 1976 Statistics).


As I mentioned before, I am currently taking a class on the Languages and Writing Systems of Anatolia, focusing on the ancient Hittites and some of their neighbors and successors in the region. These languages have long been recognized as part of the Indo-European language family, but they have common features among themselves which are not shared with the rest of the IE family.

Ignasi-Xavier Adiego, in Anatolian languages and Proto-Indo-European, discusses these differences in detail. One of the most striking is that the Anatolian languages do not have a separate feminine noun gender: Nouns are either neuter or “animate” (also known as “common” gender). Did Proto-Anatolian change after the separation, losing a lot of features of the ancestral language? Alternatively, perhaps Proto-Anatolian preserves the orginal forms. In this case Proto-Anatolian was the first language to separate from Proto-Indo-European. It is possible to speak of an earlier Proto-Indo-Hittite which was the common ancestor of Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Anatolian. After the separation Proto-Indo-European then innovated, and the results of those innovations are seen in the rest of the Indo-European family. This idea is nearly a century old, and I first learned about it in the 1960’s, but it seems to be attracting more attention now.

Alwin Kloekhorst, in The Anatolian stop system and the Indo-Hittite hypothesis, discusses some of the phonetic changes: Which direction did they go? Based on other examples of language change, he argues that it is more likely that Proto-Anatolian preserved the ancestral forms and Proto-Indo-European innovated rather than the other way around. This supports the Indo-Hittite hypothesis.

One source of confusion in this discussion: The ancient Phrygian language, while an Indo-European language spoken in Anatolia in the Iron Age, is linguistically not part of the Anatolian family. It is not well known, but seems to most closely related to Greek. However, the roughly contemporary Lydian, Lycian and, Carian languages, and a couple others, are part of the Anatolian family.

Hittite Iron

I am currently taking a class on the Languages and Writing Systems of Anatolia, focusing on the ancient Hittites and some of their neighbors and successors in the region. One of our readings was Alfonso Archi, “When Did the Hittites Begin to Write in Hittite?” in Pax Hethitica: Studies on the Hittites and their Neighbours in Honour of Itamar Singer. On p. 39 I read:

The words of the Tabarna, the Great King, are of iron. They are not to be thrust aside, not to be thrust aside, not to be broken. He who changes (them) his head will be cut off
Continue reading

Reading Notes: April 2021

  • Lars Celander, How Carriers Fought: Carrier Operations in World War II. “An in-depth analysis of aircraft carrier battles in WWII and the evolution of carrier operations—from technology and strategy to life among the crew.” The book covers US, Japanese, and British carrier use in the war. Very much about the nitty-gritty of how things got done, with a lot of quantitative analysis. “Carriers evolved into ‘eggshells armed with hammers,’ destined for short but interesting lives.” One thing I had not previously appreciated about the 1942 carrier battles in the Pacific (Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, and Santa Cruz) was the longer range of the Japanese search planes. Highly recommended for those with an interest in WWII naval and air history.

  • Scott Carpenter, French Like Moi: A Midwesterner in Paris. An American college professor buys a condo in Paris and, though fluent in French, learns how different Parisians and Midwesterners really are, through one story after another. This is one of the funniest books I have ever read. Thank you to my fellow Carleton College (where Scott Carpenter teaches) alumni for suggesting it.

Rang Gaeilge, 27ú lá Mí na mí Aibreáin 2021

Duinnín agus an Bhadhbh

Boladh … smell, scent; Boladh an scéil, hint of the story; Boladh na húire, the smell of earth, a smell presaging death (Ker.); Boladh an tsionnnaigh, “a fox smell,” a peculiar smell said to be hereditary in certain families …

  • Bhí an tAthair Pádraig ag obair ag a bhinse sa Leabharlann Náisiúnta nuair a thug sé foai ndeara go raibh lochán gréine ar an urlár. Ni scáil na gréine, go fírinneach, a dhúisigh óna néal é ach scáil phréacháin a dhubhaigh an ghile ar an urlár le rince beag earraigh a dhein se ar dhíon gloine na leabharlainne. ‘Badhbh!’ arsa an tAthair Pádraig. ‘Leid ón mBé.

    Father Patrick was working at his bench in the National Library when he noticed a pool of sunlight on the floor. It was not the image of the sun, in fact, that woke him from his nap, but the shadow of a crow that darkened the light on the floor with a little spring dance that he performed on the glass roof of the library. ‘War-goddess!’ said Fr. Patrick. ‘A sign from the woman/muse.’

    lochánsmall lake, pond
    scáilshadow, shade, darkness, reflection, image
    néalcloud, napm
    préacháncrow, rookm
    dubhaighblacken, darken
    gileWhiteness, brightnessf
    LeidHint, inkling; prompt; pointer, cluef
    Woman; maidenf

  • Léigh tuilleadh

Rang Gaeilge, 23ú lá na Márta 2021

Duinnín agus na Beacha (tuilleadh)

  • Bhí Cáit ag súil go gcaithfeadh sé an oíche ar an settle sa chistin acu siúd ach bhí a chroí rólán chuige. D’éalaigh sé amach bealach an chnoic trí pháirceanna Mholly – thíos uaidh sa ghleann, páistí Cháit ag spraoi … dhá fholt fionn agus folt donn . . . gáire ard caol leanaí. Chuala sé glór Cháit ag insint dó go soilbhir, faoi dhiscréid, go mbeadh a céile, Tom, ag ceannach na talún ó Nóra … soláthar don triúr leanbh … íoc thar thréimhse … iasacht an árthaigh … siúicre san earrach … siopa … bainis . . spanlóir de sprionlóir ar shlí na fírinne … deis a thabhairt don óige … úsc nimhneach ó na ródaideandróin a chur sa siúicre … seans go n-oibreodh sé, seans nach n-oibreodh. Dá n-oihreodh, bheadh feirm Uí Shé le díol / le ceannach – ar phraghas insroichte / réasúnta … thar thréimhse.

    Kate was hoping he would spend the night on the settle they had in the kitchen, but his heart was too full to him. He escaped out the way of the hill through Molly’s fields. Below him in the valley Kate’s children were playing … two blond heads and a brown head … the high thin laugh of children. He heard Kate’s voice telling him clearly, discretely, that her husband, Tom, would be buying the land from Nora … provide for three children … pay over time … lending the container … sugar in spring … shop … wedding … Spindle-legged person of a miser to his eternal reward … giving the youth an opportunity … put poisonous extract from the rhododendrons in the sugar … chance it would work, chance it would not. If it worked, O’Shea’s farm would be for sale/purchase – at an affordable/reasonable price … over time.

    rólántoo full
    foltHair (of head); (pl.) locks, tressesm
    soilbhirPleasant, cheerful; jovial, merry; ready of speech, well-spoken
    iasachtLending, borrowing; loanf
    árthach Vessel, ship, boat; containerm gs árthaigh
    spanlóirSpindle-legged person
    sprionlóirMean, miserly, person; miser, skinflintm
    ar shlí na fírinneto his/her/their eternal reward
    deisopportunity [here]f
    úscfat, grease; extractm

  • Léigh tuilleadh

A Copper Mine in Ancient Israel

I wrote in The Archaeology of Armageddon:

The site was occupied almost continuously from about 3500 BCE until about 586 BCE, but a direct connection to King Solomon has yet to be found. What were thought to be Solomon’s stables now seem to date from the reign of Ahab, about 870-850 BCE. Ahab and his father Omri get a terrible press in the Biblical book of 1 Kings, but unlike their predecessors in both Israel and Judah, they are mentioned in contemporary Moabite and Assyrian records. We do not yet have such a verification of the Biblical account for David and Solomon
However, somebody at that time was operating a large copper mine in what is now Israel with fortifications. Continue reading

Rang Gaeilge, 6ú lá na Márta 2021

Duinnín agus na Beacha

Saite, a swarm (of bees, {et cetera})… MacShaithe, a second swarm
cráin beiche, a female bee
máthair áil, mother of a brood, a prolific mother, a queen-bee
céir bheach, bees wax, honey in the comb
fig. what is choice or perfect; c. bheach is péarla na Muimhneach, the choice and pearl of the men of Munster; but (iron.) Tá sé ‘na céir bheach agat

  • Bhí an tAthair Pádraig istigh sa Leabharlann Náisiúnta, falla foclóirí[gpl] thart air, píosaí páipéir le focail luachmhara breactha orthu ag titim ina gconfetti ar an urlár thart air. Taobh leis bhí East Lynne le Mrs. Henry Woods [Diolann Amazon an leabhar sin]. Bhí dhá chairéad, duileasc agus úll leagtha amach go néata ar an leabhar seo. Léifadh sé Mrs. Henry ag am lóin chun a intinn a fhuaradh. Go dtí sin, choinneodh sí na cairéidí amach ón dúch.

    Father Dineen was in the National Library, a wall of dictionaries around him, pieces of paper with valuable words written on them falling like confetti on the floor around him. Beside him was East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Woods. There were two carrots, dulse[a seaweed] and an apple were neatly laid out on this book. He would read Mrs. Henry at lunchtime to cool his mind. Until then, she would keep the carrots out of the ink.

    falla = ballawallm
    luachmharValuable, costly, precious
    breacthaspeckled, dappled; written
    duileascdulse[a seaweed]

  • Léigh tuilleadh

The Dark Side of Gaia

I was reminded tonight of the Gaia hypothesis. It was quite a thing in the 1970s.

The Gaia hypothesis, named after the ancient Greek goddess of Earth, posits that Earth and its biological systems behave as a huge single entity. This entity has closely controlled self-regulatory negative feedback loops that keep the conditions on the planet within boundaries that are favorable to life. Introduced in the early 1970s, the idea was conceived by chemist and inventor James E. Lovelock and biologist Lynn Margulis.

This had a natural appeal in the early days of the environmental movement. I was skeptical back then, thinking of it as new age wishful thinking, and impossible to test. I was wrong: Its origins are far darker. Here is the abstract of Gas Guzzling Gaia, or: A Prehistory of Climate Change Denialism:

Continue reading

The mass of Dark Matter particles

An email from Cosmoquest led me to find Physicists Narrow Range of Potential Masses for Dark Matter Candidate articles. Technical details at Theoretical bounds on dark matter masses and on the Arxiv. The mass range is 10−3eV≲mφ≲107eV. Thus we have a range from neutrino masses (still very uncertain, but nonzero) up to about 1/10 the mass of a muon. This appears to exclude WIMPs, which were already in trouble. This also suggests that finding dark matter is not a justification for building a more powerful particle accelerator than the LHC; 107eV is well within the range of the LHC and other current devices.

We still do not have a complete theory of quantum gravity, but apparently enough is understood to make such calculations possible. I am looking forward to seeing what other theoretical physicists say about this.

Blinking Astronomical Photographs

Low-Cost Approach to Scanning Historic Glass Plates Yields an Astronomical Surprise. Technical details at Precise Photometric Measurements from a 1903 Photographic Plate Using a Commercial Scanner.

Professional astrophotography used to be done on emulsion-coasted glass places. That was how astromical discoveries were made for nearly a century.

More than an estimated 2.4 million glass plates are out there in collections in North America alone. These were taken starting in the 1890s right up until the 1970s, when CCD (Charged Couple Device) detectors started to come online for astronomy. Of these, only an estimated 400,000 plates have been digitized to research quality

The team in this article has found a much cheaper way to proceed with this process, using off-the-shelf hardware.

Continue reading