2023 Year Ender
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Categories: Modern, Not an expert

2023 Year Ender

group photo in a room with classicizing interior decor and lots of casts of Greek and Roman sculptures
Group photo from the conference on Stadtbelagerung in Innsbruck, October 2023

A lot of things happened in 2023! Because I am tired I am going to list them briefly.

I applied and interviewed for some professional jobs and found one last group of academic possibilities which still seems worth trying.


I glued up and carved the core of a shield, one and a half scabbard cores (one of them cracked and I did not finish the other before it got dark and cold), and made progress on another, larger shield. I covered a test piece of plywood with linen and gesso to make a panel for painting, and tested painting it with powdered pigments and egg yolk binder. Next year I will try some gum Arabic or glair (beaten egg white)! I also copied some ancient Egyptian clothing.

a panel painted with powdered pigments tempered with egg yokk
Egyptian blue, malachite, haematite, ochre, carbon black, and huntite and lime white!

Other People Outside Work

I saw a family member from out of the province.

I attended a variety of concerts and outdoor events

I attended a friend’s wedding (yay for them!)

I took an evening class in the city

I got one (1) thing from someone I don’t know when I asked for it

I left Vancouver Island for the first time since 2020

I visited Austria for the first time since 2020

a shallow carved wooden bowl hollow-side-up on a blue tarp
The red alder core of a shield 40.5 cm in diameter! Planks are joined with casein glue. With the rawhide and gesso it will probably be close to 41 cm across.

Research and Writing

I submitted and revised a variety of scholarly and popular articles. Its a little hard to talk about them because academic publishing often takes several years from sending in the manuscript to seeing it printed, and tracking down the timeline is hard, boring, and not just my story to tell, but I sent in new articles on the roads of the Achaemenid empire (March), plywood shields (December/January) and revised an article on ancient spears and an article on linen armour in the Middle Ages which are now in press. I also wrote two book reviews which both appeared in the same year (Matthew Waters’ life of Cyrus the Great, and Richard Taylor’s book on classical Greek hoplites). I wrote four articles for Karwansaray Bv, one of which saw print this year (the article on Greek swords which appeared this year was written last year).

I gave a talk for the Arms and Armour Society (UK). One year I have to make their annual general meeting in the Tower of London!

I contributed to the Pleides Project with entries such as Rudston (a modern village in Yorkshire with Neolithic and Iron Age monuments and a Late Roman villa: the location in the Barrington Atlas seems to be the modern village about 2 km from the villa) and Qasr el-Banat (the modern name of an ancient site in the Fayum, Egypt).

I did a lot of introspection and writing not of general interest. One which I can share here is that I am happy to stick with medium-sized claims where I can judge all of the details of the argument, rather than ‘big ideas.’

I expanded my network of archaeologists of Iron Age Europe (my first project was on the Achaemenids, now on spears and shields in barbarian Europe! Soon we will envelop the tricky Ionians from North and East and nothing will stop us as we make them weave twills and organize a postal service …

Most popular posts of the year:

  1. How Heavy Was the Shield from the Fayum? (published 2023)
  2. How Much Did a Shirt Really Cost in the Middle Ages? (published 2017) (no. 2 last year)
  3. The Population of the Achaemenid Empire (published 2014) (no. 10 last year)
  4. Why is LARPer an Insult? (published 2022) (no. 4 last year)
  5. How Much did a Tunic Cost in the Roman Empire? (published 2021) (no. 1 last year)
  6. What Woods were Used for Shields in Iron Age Europe? (published 2022) (no. 6 last year)
  7. Science Fiction with Egyptian Themes (published 2021) (no. 7 last year)
  8. The Myth of the Heavily Burdened Hoplite (published 2019) (no. 11 last year)
  9. A Neo-Elamite Bitumen Relief (published 2021) (not in the top 15 posts last year)
  10. Does DuckDuckGo Want To Search the Web? (published 2023)

Traffic in most months was about the same as last year, insofar as you can trust Kobo Analytics.


Every five or six minutes, someone in the social sciences publishes a PDF with a title like “Humans 95 Percent Happier in Small Towns, Waving at Neighbours and Eating Sandwiches.” When we gather in groups of more than, say, eight, it’s a disaster. Yet there is something fundamental in our nature that desperately wants to get everyone together in one big room, to “solve it.” Our smarter, richer betters (in Babel times, the king’s name was Nimrod) often preach the idea of a town square, a marketplace of ideas, a centralized hub of discourse and entertainment—and we listen. But when I go back and read Genesis, I hear God saying: “My children, I designed your brains to scale to 150 stable relationships. Anything beyond that is overclocking. You should all try Mastodon.”

If you want someone on the Internet speaking with the voice of a prophet, this Wired article is mostly harmless! https://www.wired.com/story/god-did-us-a-favor-by-destroying-twitter/

Hopefully, in 2024 all of this activity will lead to stable work that pays around the median income in Canada. I also want to get my second book with the publisher.

Thanks for everyone who has stuck with me since the early days, and for everyone who discovered this site in 2022, and for everyone who shared a link, donated, or recommended this site to a friend. Keep scrolling down for my notes on two big structural issues.

a chart of estimated death tolls of various pandemics since 1889
The Economist estimates that this year the death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has already approached the 50- year toll of AIDS/HIV. Whereas AIDS is very treatable today, the toll from COVID will continue to increase due to lack of infection control and the aftereffects of COVID infection (stroke, heart attack, weakened immune system, etc.) Infographic from https://ourworldindata.org/historical-pandemics

The vaccination-only strategy for handling the COVID pandemic continues. In greater Victoria the levels of COVID in the wastewater have been low and stable since spring, without massive outbreaks like in the winter of 2022/2023, but in other parts of the world the disease comes in unpredictable waves as people take less precautions, are weakened by infection, or time passes after vaccination (COVID is absolutely not seasonal). About half the people in Victoria I know who stopped masking and avoiding crowded indoor spaces got bad symptomatic COVID this year, and you don’t want to play around with this disease, it attacks every organ in the body. It has come out that the federal government spent $2 billion on quick tests from BTNX which fail to detect most cases.

chart of the amount of COVID-19 in sewers in Austria with a sixfold increase from September to December slightly declining at the end of the year
Load of COVID in sewers in Austria, from https://orf.at/corona/daten/abwasser

State of the Web and Social Media

Over the past few months, the PR travails of the newsletter start-up have become a reliable source of media gossip. Jude Doyle is leaving! Grace Lavery has joined! Oh man, Matt Yglesias shouldn’t have taken that advance; he’d have made far more money purely from subscriptions!

for a certain subset of the American elite—a group of people who are concentrated in journalism, academia, and related fields; who are likely to be active on Twitter; and who have strong opinions on the 1619 Project and the ACLU’s Chase Strangio— following the lives of these people is what they do instead of watching General Hospital or The Bachelor.

Helen Lewis, “On Substack, You Can Never Go Too Far,” The Atlantic, 10 May 2021 https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/05/substack-soap-opera-change-media-business/618827/

In 2023, several big social media services did the kind of thing that big ‘free’ websites always do when they run out of other people’s money. Reddit shut off free access to its API, triggering a massive revolt by moderators who say Reddit’s own tools are not enough to do their job and they are not willing to pay Reddit to have the tools to do their job (the API is also important for disabled users). Reddit stripped the mods of their mod powers, but since the site depends on the volunteer labour of mods, I don’t think that will work out for Reddit. YouTube and Twitter tried to block visitors who were not logged in (including services like youtube-dl and nitter). The Unity game engine tried to charge a fee for formerly free uses of their engine. Some people report that the ticket system EventBrite and the blog host Medium have raised fees or put up paywalls.

This is almost certainly related to the end of zero real interest rates because most of these giant web services are not businesses like a grocery store, but more like persuading the emperor to let you make him his new clothes, and the emperor is more generous when borrowing money is free. It may also be related to the fad for ChatGPT and other generative AI and large language models, because now that computer programs can create human-like text, text that was definitely written before those programs appeared is a scarce asset like steel from before 1945 (here is one article on how Large Languages Models quickly become less useful when they are fed the output of another model). I hope this helps more people see why building your house on someone else’s land is always a bad idea in the long term. Learning why its a terrible idea to put your heart into one of these corporate sites is painful, but some lessons can only be learned from experience.

In 2022 I noted that almost all the useful commentary on the Russo-Ukrainian war was either by Ukrainians or by independent analysts without jobs at old media organizations. In 2019, Patrick McKenzie noticed the same about reporting on cryptocurrency scams!

(begun 4 August 2023)

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