Friday, 30 January 2015

Money for writing, and chicks for free?

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who think that writing a book, and even more so writing several books, will make you wealthy; and those who know better.

Yes, there are some exceptions to that rule - J.K. Rowling springs to mind, obviously, and a few others have had roaring success and become wealthy from writing. But taking that for the usual outcome would be like supposing everybody who dabbles in IT will end up like Bill Gates.

This is why I'm always delighted when real authors who have published several books write about their writing income honestly. Jim C. Hines has been doing this for several years now, and you can find his most recent post here. Kameron Hurley has very recently done something similar on her blog.

It's very interesting, and it can be quite sobering. I know, from my own experience, that you don't write a book for the money. You write it because you want to write it, and when it's published and you get some royalties from it, that's a reason for happiness, and getting some money is a good reason to find a publisher - but it will usually not turn out enough money to let you make a living, even if you are writing full-time.

That's a bit like knitting, actually. Most of us knit because they want to knit, or because they like the finished thing that they make themselves, or because there's no other way to get that special thing they have in mind... but if you just want socks or a sweater, it's usually cheaper to just buy them. (Never mind easier and quicker, too.) Most writers just like to write.

And without that, our world would be a little poorer.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Laaaaate. Here's why.

Just in case you have wondered about the late blog posts recently - it's not that I have lost my interest in blogging, or that I have un-learned how to read a clock. It's more or less directly due to the joys of working together with someone on the other side of the planet, and my changed daily schedule.

There's this book project, you see (and I actually don't know how much I have already told about it in this blog, though I think it's not much).  It's a joint project with Gillian, who has instigated it and brought heaps and heaps of words (the bulk of all the book, in fact). Gillian is a historian who happens to live in Australia... and that means our working together has to be timed carefully. That usually ends up being my morning to noon, sometimes early afternoon, and her arvo (the Aussie afternoon) to evening and night. There's only so much you can do in these sessions, and recently, we've had some more and some longer ones, as we're working towards meeting our deadline for publication.

Since this project is going to eat up some more of my premium morning hours, and I suspect things will go more crazy in the next two to three weeks instead of less crazy, you will know just what is up when the blogpost goes up later than usual. (Including, like today, much later than usual.)

And just in case you are interested in the process: at the moment, we're taking one last joint read through the manuscript to get rid of the last bits that need checking, editing, or otherwise modifying. Gillian has started doing the final detailed proofing on the printout, and I will join her very soon in that. A few people have a draft of the manuscript to have a look at it and will hopefully give us some feedback; meanwhile, we're also sourcing good illustrations to go with the text, because sometime a picture is better than words. Getting a book finished is pure craziness... but a weirdly nice, good kind of total craziness.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Documentation is key.

If you've heard one of my presentations about Experimental Archaeology, the chances are high that you have also heard me talk about what defines an archaeological experiment. ExpArch has become a buzzword in recent years, and the term has often been applied to things that are not real experimental archaeology - because it seems to sell well, or excite people, or those doing the description don't know better, or for whatever other reason(s).

Experiments in general are very clearly defined: They are a process that is designed specifically to answer a question. The experiment design has a very great influence on how much of an answer you get, and on how general the answer can be - if you are doing a chemical experiment with, say, helium, you cannot tell things about what would happen with oxygen, or hydrogen in place of the helium.

Experiments, to be called such, also have to be documented clearly, accurately and objectively enough to allow the experiment to be repeated - and the outcome, if things are done correctly in each instance of the experiment, should be the same or at least very similar. This means anybody can, theoretically, replicate a given published experiment to test the reliability of the experiment itself and the answers it gave.

Which means that a proper archaeological experiment needs to be objective, it has to be repeatable, has to be designed to answer a specific question, and the design of the actual process has to be suitable for this  answer - you cannot say something about oak working if you used beech, and you cannot say something about the suitability of old tools if you use modern ones. It also has to be documented accordingly. Everything else is not archaeological experiments - it can be tests of tools and techniques, or archaeotechnic, or playing around, or making replicas, but it's not an experiment.

Now, very obviously, as soon as you go into archaeology, things get a little messier than in a nice, clean chemistry lab or physics facility, where you have controlled environments, controlled substances, and measurable outcomes.

The materials for archaeological experiments are very often natural stuff - and there can be a huge difference between wood and wood, even if it's the same tree species. Plus there's the human factor - craft skills are an important factor, and they are hard to quantify. Many things are also subjective, such as the preference of one style of working over another, or one tool variant over another. Which means that "objective" will, in various instances, turn into "as objective as possible" and "repeatable" into "as repeatable as possible" - since you cannot use the same tree twice. (In some cases, modern stand-in materials can be used to get better repeatability. I've learned about experiments about flint-knapping, for instance, that use specifically made ceramic cores for knapping: similar characteristics for the breaking, and uniform without flaws.)

One of the key things to still get workable results is... documentation. There's no such thing as too much documentation! This is especially important when human factors come into play. It's also important to keep in mind that these human influences may be very significant, and to document (and describe, and publish) accordingly. Even if it's not a proper, full-fledged archaeological experiment, but someone or a group trying out techniques, good documentation of the tests can make a world of a difference when you are trying to make sense of things - or just trying to get an inkling about a single person's skill development.

A very good example of documentation for this can be found on Agata Ulanowska's site. She's lecturing in Warsaw and has been giving courses about old textile techniques for several years, teaching students how to do things like tablet-weaving. For those courses, she's giving out documentation sheets, making it possible to track the progress of each student as well as getting an overview about times for designing, weaving, and finishing projects. The sheets are downloadable from her page (scroll down to find them) - maybe they will be helpful for you as well!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Sometimes it's good if you read German.

For these links, for instance - all interesting, all German-only (sorry!), but at least the first one has pictures you might enjoy if you don't understand the text.

The salt mines at Hallstatt have a brand-new webpage: It's not really picture-heavy, but there is a small slideshow with some impressions right at the frontpage, including a close-up of one of the textiles.

Rainer Schreg has posted the last installation of his blogpost series about "Archäologische Quellenkritik" (source criticism in archaeology), with a very interesting example about how sources might mislead us using chesspiece finds. 

Third and last link topic: Modern science made it possible to read charred papyrus rolls from Pompeii - without unrolling them. Yay for X-rays! Here is the German-language article from Spiegel. The original publication about this project is in English, titled "Revealing letters in rolled Herculaneum papyri by X-ray phase-contrast imaging" (paywall, abstract is free).

Monday, 26 January 2015

Updates! And blegging!

A while ago, I posted about an upcoming exhibition of early modern dresses in Nuremburg. I've since received an update about this - it will start in December 2015. You can read more about the exhibition here.

Also, it's time for me to bleg again...

Together with a colleague, Gillian, whom I met in Leeds, I've been working on a book about medieval England these past years. The book is going to give an overview about England from c 1050 to 1315. We have tried hard to write a book that gives enough detail for those readers who would like to use medieval England as a basis for their own projects - such as a medieval-based fantasy world, or writing a historical novel, or getting started with Living History.

We're now actually in the last stage - copyediting, getting the last few stray bits and pieces in line, and... illustrating it. We have the opportunity of putting pictures into the book, even colour pictures, which is just wonderful. The only drawback? Our deadline is approaching, fast. And we need to get the illustration done double-quick...

A while ago, I've already gotten a few gorgeous pictures for the book, but there are still quite a few topics that are not covered. We would love to have pictures that show actual live persons using good-quality replicas of stuff from England (or non-regional things), from the time-span 11th to very early 14th century. Daily life scenarios, craftspeople doing their work, children playing, any combination of things that actually existed and were used and people using them would be helpful, whether secular, religious, or military. Good pictures of just tools and maybe half-finished products would be very welcome as well.

So... if you have a photo, or several photos, that fit the bill and you would be happy with them being published, please send it to me at And we will be ever so grateful for your help!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Thank goodness it's Friday.

It's really about time for the weekend to arrive! Which is really obvious by the fact that this morning, and this noon, completely got away from me (by being filled with stuff that had to be done) and I almost forgot I hadn't blogged yet.

To top things off (or to top them under?) I don't even have a nice amusing link for you. I can tell you, however, that my yoga mat still has a slightly rubbery smell (especially when freshly cleaned and hanging to dry in the bathroom), that the cat insist on sleeping on the Most Patient Husband's desk chair (which is no problem during the day, but leads to mild conflict when he's home in the evening and actually dares to sit there) and that having ample tea standing beside me is helping immensely with everything. Hot motivational beverages for the win!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The European Union... explained.

Have you ever wondered about that thing called the European Union? Here's a nice video that explains it all.*

* More or less.

Speaking of the EU, there's news about the VAT stuff. Here's a roundup on how the start of the new rules went - not pretty. However, there's still some hope: There will be a meeting of the EU VAT Action group with Donato Raponi (yay!), and they are assembling case studies for this, so if you are affected by the rules, that's your chance to get heard. There's also an Action Challenge currently running - go here to get challenged.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Where you can help, part two.

After the more depressing please-help thingies I posted yesterday, here is a different one where you can help. I've stumbled across this through the chat on HabitRPG (I posted about this before, here) and it's an absolutely fascinating project - though if you want to join in, it will take a few hours of your time.

Voices, like fingerprints, are something deeply personal. For a lot of speech-impaired people, though, there are communication machines with only very few standard voices to choose from. VocaliD is a project that aims to remedy this, by blending the sound characteristics extracted from sounds the speech-impaired person can make with the (missing) rest of the voice-forming properties from an actual human voice. And you can actually become a voice-donor and help with that!

Rupal Patel explains it all in much more detail and depth in her TED talk. Which I found deeply touching - she really does bring the point across that a voice is a deeply personal thing.

If you are game to help now, you can go visit VocaliD and support them. For the moment, they are recording English speakers, but my guess is that if this works nicely, there will be a demand for other languages as well (and also, maybe, more than one language spoken by a single person).

Monday, 19 January 2015

Where you can help, part one.

Sometimes it feels like things are trying to fall to pieces, or go pear-shaped, in nicely regular intervals. These days, though, there's the Power of the Internet that can be harnessed to actually change some things...

so if you have a few minutes to spare today, maybe you are willing to help with these?

First, the biggest issue. There's been ACTA and TTIP, and now it seems to be time for the next one: TISA. Just like the last ones, it has been mostly discussed behind closed doors, and just like the last time, it's high time for us to protest such lovely and helpful ideas as privatisation of water supply or passing bank data on to other countries (at least that's what has been hinted at). I'd say no thanks! (Whatever things are being discussed really, just the fact that it's being done behind closed doors is enough for me to feel uneasy about it.)

There are petitions in Switzerland and Austria as well as in Germany, if you search for "stop TiSA" on the 'net. You can sign for the German version at Avaaz, or at, or at both if you're so inclined. Please help also by spreading the word.

A little smaller, but also in need of signatures is this petition against a very serious budget cut for Swiss archaeology: The government is cutting the budget for archaeology in the Kanton Schaffhausen by more than half until 2018. More than 70% of the regular job positions will be terminated and fixed term positions will not be renewed.  This will be a massive loss of work capacity - and means that it will not be possible to get the necessary archaeological work done. Please sign the petition against this and help keep archaeologists in their (very rare) full-time jobs!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Superheroes, Renaissance-Style.

A friend sent me this link to a gallery of superheroes (and supervillains) re-imagined as Renaissance portraits.

In other news from hereabouts, I'm drinking herbal tea, I was just compelled by Neil Gaiman to back a music project on Kickstarter (I blame Twitter for that), and I finally took the photos necessary to update the shop with oillight wicks and hemp strick. I'm working on it now, so the things should be up and available by the early afternoon. Also there's some editing work hanging out here and calling for my attention... which it shall have. Soon.

Good thing it's Friday, and the well-earned weekend is approaching fast!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Bookish stuff (or should I say "manuscriptish stuff"?)

Some of the links that accumulated here are concerning books or, I should better say, manuscripts. Such as these here:

Medical textbooks from the 16th century! The article is really, really worth a look if only for the multi-layered manikin picture.

Quill Books before Print gives you a nice overview about how books were made back when they were still manuscripts. Erik Kwakkel (who did the text for Quill) also has a very nice blog that is generally deliciously picture-heavy. One of my favourite posts there is the one about bad parchment used in manuscripts. (The pictures include embroidery.)

The Sojourning Spinner has collected directions to some of the most famous spinning pictures from manuscripts.

That's it for today. In non-manuscript news, I am busy with a... manuscript, but not a hand-written one. If things go well, I will have exciting news in the near future. (Keep your fingers crossed, please!)

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The EU VAT, again.

It's become quiet over the holidays about the EU VAT and VATMOSS (or WhatMess, as it should be titled, probably). The topic is not off the table yet, though, and if you've been on Ravelry recently, you will have noticed the Notice next to the EU flag.

If you are confused now and would like to have a nice analogous explanation on how the new rules work (or don't work), I recommend Hannah's Banana Story.  Carolyn Jewel blogs about her problems with pricing in the new system, especially regarding ebooks, and Cheryl Morgan has similar problems. (Her final thought? Amazon will profit from this, a lot. Which is exactly what I suspect. Say, wasn't the intention of the new rules something along the lines of curbing the advantage of the Big Players, among them said Big River Store who ships from wherever tax was cheaper? Hmmm....)

The new tax regulations are in force since January 1, and I have no idea how all the single traders selling digital content are handling it - since there has been no change in the legislation yet, as far as I know. Personally, I'm very happy that I only have one digital knitting pattern these days, and since it hasn't seen any sales for a while (which is a pity, but there are plenty of hats around, so I can sort of understand), I've just taken it off Ravelry for the time being. (Should you want one, drop me an email.)

I'm staying tuned to the EUVAT Action site and the Digital Microbusiness Group, but there's not much happening on either at the moment, and I hope that means the groups are in contact with those in charge in the EU, busily trying to solve the problem, and too busy to post news.

If you can, please spread the word about this, or fill out a survey on the EUVAT Action site, or take one of the other actions listed there. The more that speak or write about it, the better!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The fan is clean again!

Last week, I finally cleaned the fan in my laptop. The reason I finally did it was that during our hanging-out-with-friends over the New Year, I had brought my little computer, and it had stood out. Not due to being the only one, or the smallest, or the oldest - but it was, by far, the loudest.

So that morning back home, I heaved a big sigh, carried it over to the dinner table, took out the screwdrivers and braced for something nasty... all because of this song:

I love that song. It's hilarious. But it also made me expect a nightmare. I'm very happy to report now that my expectations were grossly mistaken, and it took me only eight screws, two q-tips, a small vacuum cleaner and about fifteen minutes (including getting the vacuum and putting it away again) to get the fan and, more importantly, the totally fluff-blocked fan grille squeaky clean again. It was just a single panel (five screws) and then the fan itself (three screws). Thanks Asus!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Newsy stuff.

While I've been absent from blogging, interesting stuff has accumulated - plus new things came in, like this note today:

The Guardian: German anthropologist exposed as fraud.

The Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands has made its collection of public domain images freely available on the net, and is very content with the outcome. There's a paper about it here.

And the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremburg is planning an exhibition on early modern dress - due to start sometime this year, as far as I understand the plan.

Something technical to round it up - should you be worried that some spammer might have access to your email and personal data, you can use this handy Identity Leak Checker to find out.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Happy New Year! News! Conferences!

Happy new year, everybody! I hope you had a good time during the holidays.

Hereabouts cookies and Stollen and lots of lovely food have been consumed. Outside it has finally gotten wintery, with a bit of snow lying around, and even enough for a snowman and a snowball-fight with friends at one point. We hung out with friends and family, having a good time, relaxing, and playing a few games. And three days ago, I managed to catch the Monster Cold of Doom which knocked me out of action for a day and a half, and led to massive consumption of hot lemon with ginger. (In case you never tried that, it's a lovely winter drink, not only when you have a cold. Peel and cut up fresh ginger, pour boiling water over it, let sit for a while to brew, until the liquid is not too hot to drink anymore. Then add honey and lemon juice to taste - I use about a quarter lemon's worth per cup.)

Nevertheless, meanwhile, progress on the book has been made, and things are very close to a final now. Which is very, very good, since we hope to have it out very soon (which implies an utterly strict and very tight deadline). I'm sadly behind on a number of other things, though!

The new year, as was to be expected, is also bringing new conferences - and here are two calls for papers for you:

The Textielcommissie of the Netherlands is hosting a conference about bio-design in textiles on May 18.

The next CfP is from the EAA - Oral papers and posters are invited for the session ‘Quantitative and qualitative approaches to prehistoric warfare’ to be held at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, Glasgow, 2-5 September 2015.

There will also be a textile session at the EAA, where the organisers would like to hear from people who have experience of teaching archaeological textiles at university level, particularly in relation to the following questions:

What do you want the next generation to know about archaeological textiles (both general archaeologists, and people who want to specialise in textiles)?
What should be included in primarily textile-focused courses? Topics, good case studies, tips and tricks, practical ideas, theory...
How can archaeological textiles be incorporated into other courses?
How does your textile teaching fit into the goals of your university/department/ course structure/teaching style/research focus/curriculum/etc?

The goal of the session are to exchange best practice, build a databank of teaching materials for textiles courses, and possibly develop strategies for raising the profile of textile studies. The session is linked to the conservation excursion ( 

The deadline for submission of abstracts for the EAA is 16 February 2015 as well. Submit your paper here: