Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Bee Keeping; not something to rush into

I know someone who said they could get honey bees for us. But I have to decide by tomorrow, and then the bees arrive 10 days later. So I had a quick look on-line, to see what we would be letting ourselves in for:

Bee in the know
With experts’ tips, it’s the right time to get ready to house your own hive
Longtime beekeeper Ken Ograin wasn’t always an expert on the subject.

When he first started the backyard hobby nearly two decades ago, Ograin’s hive died. The same thing happened the next year. And the one after that.

That changed when Ograin shifted away from relying primarily on books to learn about beekeeping and instead found a local source for education and mentoring.

Finding a mentor and continuing to learn as you go are two of the biggest keys to success for someone who wants to raise a thriving bee colony, says Ograin, who is a longtime member of the Lane County Beekeepers Association.

“They need to find a mentor,” Ograin advises. “Preferably somebody that’s a backyard beekeeper.”

It’s almost bee season, when packages of bees are available for those setting up or adding hives. With it comes a flurry of education opportunities to help novice and still-learning beekeepers.

“I’ve been doing it 19 years, and I learn new things all the time,” Ograin says. [...]
The rest of the article reveals more details. Clearly not something to rush into, uninformed. Even my friend who offered to pick up the bees for us, suggested we might benefit by planning for it for a year ahead, so we know what to do when the time comes. I think it could be enjoyable, if you are ready for it. It might be better to complete BeeKeeping 101 first.
     

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"The Alchemist" and "The Pilgrimage"; are they books for self-abosorbed Yuppies?

I recently read those two books, then came across this article in the New Yorker, about the author, Paulo Coelho. It's long, but an interesting read. There was one part, quoting one of his literary critics from his native Brazil, that I've excerpted below:

The Magus
The astonishing appeal of Paulo Coelho
[...] Mário Maestri, a history professor at the University of Passo Fundo and one of the few Brazilian critics who does not reflexively dismiss Coelho, has written, “In spite of belonging to different genres, Coelho’s narratives and self-help books have the same fundamental effect: of anesthetizing the alienated consciousness through the consoling reaffirmation of conventions and prevailing prejudices. Fascinated by his discoveries, the Coelhist reader explores the familiar, breaks down doors already open, and gets mired in sentimental, tranquilizing, self-centered, conformist, and spellbinding visions of the world that imprisons him. When he finishes a book, he wants another one that will be different but absolutely the same.” Maestri calls the work “yuppie esoteric narrative.” As if to prove the point, this winter Starbucks distributed five million Venti cups printed with a Coelho quote: “Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. Never forget your Personal Legend. Never forget your dreams. . . .” [...]
Ouch! Sharp criticism, yet one could argue that "He makes that sound like a bad thing". I think much of what Mário said is true. Yet the very things he cites have also made Coelho a best-selling author, winning the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author. Yuppies buy books, so Coelho can laugh all the way to the bank.

Despite his popularity with the demos (or, because of it?), he's a controversial and eccentric figure. I found the interview interesting. He claims, among other things, that his book "The Pilgrimage" is responsible for the revival of interest in the 500-plus mile Road of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, a journey he himself has made. And looking at the statistics for travelers, what he says may well be true.
     

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Both conservatives and liberals aren’t being straight about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Everybody's Lost Their Goddamn Mind Over Religious Freedom
You want to know the weirdest thing about the fight over Indiana’s state-level version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)? It’s totally at odds with the origins of that first federal law.

Indiana’s law is being championed by religious conservatives and opposed by secular liberals. In an intense press conference on Tuesday, embattled Republican Governor Mike Pence declared, “I believe religious liberty is our first freedom.” But the original RFRA was signed into law by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1993 after the state of Oregon refused to pay unemployment insurance to a couple of Native Americans who got canned as drug-rehab counselors for using peyote in religious ceremonies. RFRA was passed to remedy such an obvious injustice and its main sponsor in the House was liberal congressman Charles Schumer, who’s expected to become the next Senate Minority Leader and is most famous for trying to ban every goddamned good-time substance known to mankind, from Four Loko to powdered caffeine to “delicious-looking detergent.”

Weirder still: Arch-conservative Jesse Helms, a hardcore Christian who was an unapologetic homophobe, was one of just three senators who voted against the law. Writing for the majority in Employment Division v. Smith, the drug warrior Antonin Scalia thundered that letting religion provide a loophole in such an instance “would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.”

[...]

From a libertarian perspective, there’s an easy enough way to resolve the current conflict between demands for religious freedom and equality. It doesn’t fully satisfy either side but it has the virtue of preserving a pluralistic society and minimizing intervention into everyday life.

The starting point should be to focus on discrimination by the government, which was the impetus behind the original federal RFRA—Oregon refused to pay out unemployment based on religiously based drug use. Conservatives typically say they believe in limited government and individual rights and that the government shouldn’t play favorites or accord certain people or classes of people special treatment (this is their argument against affirmative action). If they mean what they say in other contexts, conservatives should be in the forefront of pushing for marriage equality, as the state has no case for treating individuals differently under the law.

For their part, liberals should recognize the limits to and wisdom of injecting state power into every possible relationship in the country. As wrong and stupid as I think it is for a particular individual or business to discriminate against a customer or neighbor based on sexual orientation (or race, gender, and class for that matter), that should be the business’s decision, especially if the business is only one service provider among many.

Nobody should be forced to do something they don’t want to do, whether it’s bake cakes for gay weddings or decorate cakes with anti-gay slurs. To me, whether a person’s or a business’s decision is based in religion is immaterial.

Whatever you may think of Jack Phillips’s refusal to bake a wedding cake for gay customers, there’s something as or more disturbing about the court ruling against the owner of Lakewood, Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop. Not only was the baker forced to change his store policy, he and his staff were required to attend sensitivity training. That sounds like something out of China during the Cultural Revolution. It doesn’t help that Phillips offered to make the original complainants any sort of item but a wedding cake.

Most Americans don’t agree with Phillips’s beliefs in this case, but such disagreements are one of the prices we pay for living in a free society, in which we seriously recognize and respect that different people have different value systems. It’s worth noting that in the segregated South, very different rules applied. It was common, for instance, that local and state governments and laws actively prevented businesses from treating customers equally. When laws were not openly racist, “citizen’s councils” and terror groups such as the Ku Klux Klan enforced a de facto standard against businesses that treated all customers equally. This is not the case today with regards to gays and lesbians.

By the same token, any individuals or businesses that exclude certain sorts of business can’t exactly bitch and moan when people decide to publicize such policies and organize boycotts, as is happening to the entire state of Indiana now.

Supporters of state-level RFRAs should own the fact that, as Apple’s Cook says, such laws absolutely do allow discrimination (more precisely, they allow defendants to use religious beliefs as a defense in certain court proceedings). Indiana Governor Mike Pence now says he hopes to fix the law with more legislation. “The issue here is still is tolerance a two-way street,” he told ABC News over the weekend. Of course it is, and the same right that allows a business to opt out of serving some customers also allows others to respond by taking their business elsewhere. Last year, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a RFRA-style bill precisely because of possible economic fallout. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links and more. I think the ideas presented in this article make a lot of sense, but I doubt many supporters on either side of the conflict will embrace them. And the history of this law... so much irony!

     

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The "monstrous" spawn of radio crystals?

Everything old is new again:

An Old-School Crystal Radio That Broadcasts High-Tech News
A crystal radio set is almost like magic. Sound appears, seemingly out of nowhere, powered not by cords and batteries, but by the very air around you. “You can’t quite work out how it comes alive,” says Julian Oliver. “But it just does.”

Oliver is an artist and “critical engineer,” who for his most recent project created a modern-day crystal radio with a distinctly modern twist. Instead of broadcasting AM radio waves, the Crystal Line, now on display at The Cutting Room in Nottingham, England, uses a mini computer to crawl the web in search for the latest military and defense news. Stories about brain-controlled fighter jets, artificial intelligence and drones are translated from text to speech, sent to an AM transmitter and broadcast.

[...]

The radio forever changed warfare, and not just in the way information was communicated. Oliver likes to remind people that the crystal radio marked the beginning for so many other technologies. “The moment that an inanimate object can talk back, what do you have?” he asks. “You have networking.”

It’s a nice conceptual loop when you consider how much of the news you hear through the Crystal Line is indebted to the very radio that’s broadcasting it. Drones, encryption technology, GPS and even the nuclear arms race are, in some way, decedents of those primitive radio technologies. “I wanted to cast a lineage from the birth of radio to what became its monstrous grandchildren,” he says. “The future combat systems.”
Are these descendants of radio "monstrous" if they are being used to protect you from people with monstrous intentions? The definition of monstrous might well depend on whether they are aimed at you or away from you.

The full article has embedded links, and a sample broadcast with an artificial voice reading the text. It is kinda creepy. Welcome to the Brave New World.
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Saturday, March 28, 2015

A new type of power grid

Why Tesla's battery for your home should terrify utilities
Elon Musk's electricity empire could mean a new type of power grid
[...] The prospect of cheap solar panels combined with powerful batteries has been a source of significant anxiety in the utility sector. In 2013, the Edison Electric Institute, the trade group for investor-owned electric companies, issued a report warning that disruption was coming. "One can imagine a day when battery storage technology or micro turbines could allow customers to be electric grid independent," the report said, likening the speed of the coming transition to the one from landlines to cellphones 10 years ago. Suddenly regulated monopolies are finding themselves in competition with their own customers.

They haven’t had to deal with this on the residential side yet, primarily because people can sell excess power back to the utilities at fairly high rates — a practice called net metering. But that’s hurting utilities, too, and some have tried to lower the price at which they buy back power, which has been met by furious protests from people leasing panels. If utilities lower the buyback rate too much, however, and batteries get cheap enough, people may just unplug from the grid altogether — or more likely, install systems that let them rely on it only rarely — prompting what those in the industry call "the utility death spiral." It’s quite a bind: by fighting net metering, utilities would help make battery storage more economically viable, driving the transition to a distributed grid.

Manghani believes utilities aren’t doomed, but they may undergo a radical transformation, becoming something closer to service providers and minders of an increasingly distributed grid rather than the centralized power producers they are today. Such a system would require lots of batteries to help balance the load and supply extra power during peak times, which is why GTM estimates the market will grow from $48 million today to about $1 billion in 2018. [...]
Excellent, I say bring it on! And Tesla seems perfectly poised to pounce and make it happen. Read the whole thing for the details that back it up, embedded links and more.
     

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Let the government do your voting for you

Oregon: Voter Registration Made Automatic
Seventeen years after Oregon decided to become the first state to hold all elections with mail-in ballots, it took another pioneering step on Monday to broaden participation by automatically registering people to vote. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, signed a bill that puts the burden of registration on the state instead of voters. Under the legislation, every adult citizen in Oregon who has had business with the Department of Motor Vehicles since 2013 but has not registered to vote will receive a ballot in the mail at least 20 days before the next statewide election. The measure is expected to add about 300,000 voters to the rolls. Some other states have considered such legislation, but none have gone as far as Oregon. Minnesota nearly instituted automatic voter registration in 2009 before it was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who said that “registering to vote should be a voluntary, intentional act.” Similar concerns were raised by Oregon’s minority Republicans.
How Progressive. What comes next, the government actually casts your vote for you? Oh, wait a minute, Oregon already does that.
     

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Google's Redesign of it's Headquarters

It looks like a "Future World" theme park:



Google's future campus looks like a sci-fi utopia
Google has revealed eye-popping ideas for a redesign of its California headquarters that symbolize how far the company wants to move beyond its core search business.

Plans submitted Friday to the Mountain View City Council include lightweight block-like structures—not stationary concrete buildings—that can be moved around as the company invests in new product areas. These areas now include self-driving cars, solar-powered drones and robots. Google’s self-driving car team, for instance, has different needs than search engineers, the company said in revealing its plans.

On top of those modular structures would be translucent canopies that can control the climate inside while letting in natural light and air. The canopies would free the spaces from traditional limitations like walls, windows and roofs.

It’s not hard to imagine Google’s future campus serving as a playground for the company’s pursuits outside of search. Plus, it sounds like Google is going for something like a futuristic city for its thousands of employees and local residents. The company is already known for its on-campus perks encouraging employees to maximize their time on campus, but the new plans elevate that concept. [...]
Read the whole thing for more pictures, and embedded links. It's way cool! A very futuristic vision to be sure. Bold and ambitious. It will be interesting to see how the end product turns out, and how much it adheres to this vision.
     

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Sunday Funnies 03/15/15

Islamic Holdem'

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The Coronation of Hillary Clinton?

Dick Meyer: The problem isn't Hillary, it's the Democrats
[...] The scandal is not that she may have broken rules, it's that the Democratic Party is allowing her to march unopposed to a coronation.

[...]

There cannot be a single voter in America that is surprised Hillary is already boiling in a scandal, or pseudo-scandal, depending on your perspective. Love them or hate them, this is what they do and this is what happens to them. Fair or unfair, this is their mythic cycle, their dramatic fate.

Perhaps this is the act that ends Hillary's performance, but probably not. And perhaps, if she stays in the race, there will be no more scandal dramas before November 2016, but probably not.

The very simple point is that Democratic Party is insane to have put itself in this position - this entirely predictable situation. After all, Hillary did lose to an unlikely newcomer in 2008, Barack Obama. She'll obviously be beatable in a general election.

Some blame the Clintons, which is wrongheaded. It's not their fault that they scared off all credible opposition and ran the most effective pre-primary of any modern campaign (thus far). That is exactly what they are supposed to do.

It is the job of the party to create competition and breed national candidates of stature. Mock the Republican field if you want, at least it is a field and not just a pitcher's mound.

I have argued before that the Democrats have become the conservative party in America, the Establishment Party more protective of the status quo and big business than the Republicans. This is yet another sign.

The Democrats are arguably more invested in the Political-Industrial Complex. Their legions aren't true believers but consultants, lobbyists, vendors, hacks, ambassadors-in-waiting and aspiring political appointees. Not backing Team Clinton is a bad career move. But now they have a problem. [...]
Do they? Have a problem? The author rightly points out that people have come to expect this sort of thing from the Clintons. The email controversy would likely be fatal for a Republican, but for a Democrat? I doubt it. Her supporters are not likely to stop supporting her. I think the coronation will proceed.

Ever since Ted Kennedy was allowed to continue in office even after he left a woman to die of suffocation underwater in the back seat of his car, the Democrats lowered the bar for what is acceptable from their candidates. I doubt that the email scandal will derail the coronation of Hillary, or even slow it down much, but we'll see.
     

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

First Big Solar Flare of 2015


Active sunspot unleashes X-class solar flare, high-latitude aurora possible Friday
[...] What’s particularly interesting about this week’s eruptions is that the parent region is now near the center of the sun as we look at it, and it’s likely that a coronal mass ejection (CME) is now headed toward Earth thanks to the X2 flare.

Region 2297’s earlier eruptions occurred when it was in a less central position, so the launched CME would be, at worst, a side swipe for Earth’s magnetic field. The event on the afternoon of March 11, though, is much more likely to hit nearly head on.

High-latitude aurora watchers take note — the Space Weather Prediction Center is looking for minor magnetic storm activity on March 13. Plus, the sky will be relatively dark with the moon in its last quarter, so lunar light pollution is minimal. Get away from city lights for your best chance of seeing a glow.

The days following may be even more disturbed if Region 2297 has more in it.

The Ides of March? The Roman soothsayers made dire predictions for Caesar. For us, just a head’s up that some nice northern lights may be coming.

Follow the link for a larger photo. I like how they put the earth on there, for scale. The flare itself is much larger than our small world.

If you are science-minded and want to monitor the progress of this sunspot, you can do so here.
     

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Clinton's email spin-control, and the questions that nobody is asking

Fact check: Clinton e-mails and the privacy 'privilege'
[...] Clinton, a likely presidential candidate in 2016, has been embroiled in an e-mail controversy since March 2, when The New York Times reported that she exclusively used a private e-mail account at clintonemail.com to conduct government business. At a press conference on March 10, Clinton said she sent and received more than 60,000 e-mails during her time in office. At the State Department's request, Clinton turned over about half of them to the government in December. The rest were deleted because they were personal, she said.

Asked whether she would agree to allow an "independent third party to come in and examine your e-mails," Clinton replied that she should be treated no differently than federal employees who have a government e-mail account and a personal e-mail account. They can decide when they send an e-mail whether to use the government or private account.

"So, even if you have a work-related device with a work-related .gov account, you choose what goes on that," she told reporters.

That's true, of course, but the situation she describes is not entirely analogous, since Clinton had no government account. She made the choice to use only a personal e-mail account set up on a personal server.

Moreover, Clinton's office went too far when answering the same question in a Q&A it released on the day of the press conference. The Q&A detailed the Clinton team's review process and answered some common questions that have been raised since the Times story first appeared.

One of the questions in the Q&A: "Do you think a third party should be allowed to review what was turned over to the Department, as well as the remainder that was not?" Clinton's office answered, in part: "Government officials are granted the privacy of their personal, non-work related emails, including personal emails on .gov accounts. Secretary Clinton exercised her privilege to ensure the continued privacy of her personal, non-work related emails."

That characterization of the rules governing government e-mail systems is not accurate.

State Department policy — spelled out in the Foreign Affairs Manual under "Points to Remember About E-mail" — says there is "no expectation of privacy." Specifically, 5 FAM 443.5 says, in part: "Department E-mail systems are for official use only by authorized personnel" and "The information in the systems is Departmental, not personal. No expectation of privacy or confidentiality applies."

Clinton is correct that the department policy allows employees to delete e-mails that are not work-related. The 5 FAM 443.5 rule also says, "Messages that are not records may be deleted when no longer needed."

But Baron — who served 13 years as director of litigation at the National Archives, which is responsible for maintaining government records — said in an interview that Clinton's use of a private server gave her exclusive control, thus preventing the department from having full access to e-mails she sent and received while a federal employee. Government employees have no right to privacy on government computers and even personal e-mails are subject to review and perhaps release at the department's discretion.

"Setting up a private server to conduct public business inappropriately shifts control of what is accessible to the end user alone rather than allowing the institution to decide threshold questions," he told us.

We sent e-mails to Clinton's office and to the State Department asking about the privacy claim but received no response. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.

The article goes on to say that Clinton claims that she was emailing people in the State Department with .gov email accounts, and that they have copies of the emails she sent. Sure, the one's she sent to THEM. What about the other emails she sent other people, as Secretary of State? Ironically, her statement also confirms something else. The people in the State Department that she was emailing, knew that she was not using a .gov account, and they just let her do it anyway. Why was she allowed to do this?

If this were a Republican being investigated, the press would be asking those people, "What did you know and when did you know it? Why was she allowed to break the rules her position required her to follow?" Will the press do so this time? If they don't, then WE need to.

ALL politicians, regardless of party affiliation, need to be questioned and held accountable for their actions, if we are to get better people in office. Clinton has been let off the hook so many times, she just keeps on acting as if she has privileges no one else has. Why? Because too many people let her do it. And that just encourages more of the same. It has to stop.

     

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Goodby Mr. Spock

Or goodbye Leonard Nimoy, actually:



Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83
Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.

His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year, attributing it to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week.

His artistic pursuits — poetry, photography and music in addition to acting — ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” (from the Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”). [...]
He was a man of many talents. He had a Master's degree in Spanish that he earned in his 40's, among many other accomplishments. Follow the link for photos, video and more.
     

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10 or 11 steps, German, or French?

10 Steps to Germanize Yourself

11 Steps to Frenchify Yourself

Apparently, a "know-it-all" in German is called a "Klugscheißer" (“smart shitter”). Who knew? Read the whole thing for more fun facts (I'm pretty sure it's meant to be humorous. And while many a truth is spoken in jest, I'm sure it's not 100% universally so. I'm just say'n. Don't want any German or French hate-mail! ;))
     

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to swear in six languages

The begining of this article warns that it's "R" rated. If you go there, you'll see why:

BAD DAY? TRY THESE 21 CRUSHING CURSE WORDS IN 6 LANGUAGES

Talk about local color. Gosh.
     

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Modern English: a blend of languages

Here is an interesting article about the complex blend of several languages that evolved to become modern English:

139 Old Norse Words That Invaded The English Language
When I say “Old English” what comes to mind? The ornate, hard-to-read script? Reading Beowulf in your high school English class? The kinds of figurative compound nouns – or kennings – like “swan of blood” and “slaughter-dew” that have sustained heavy metal lyrics for decades?

Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon, was a language spoken by the Angles and the Saxons – the first Germanic tribes to settle the British Isles. They were not the first inhabitants, as any Welsh or Gaelic speaker will tell you, but their language did form the basis for the Angle-ish we speak today. But then why can’t we modern-day English speakers understand Old English? In terms of vocabulary, grammar and syntax, Old English resembles its cousins Dutch and German more than it does modern English. So how did English change so drastically?

The short answer is that the English language changed forever after the Norman invasion brought a new ruling class of French speakers to the British Isles in 1066. French was the language of the nobility for the next 300 years – plenty of time for lots of French words to trickle down to the merchant and peasant classes. For example, the Anglo-Saxons already had words for “sheep” and “cows”, but the Norman aristocracy – who usually only saw these animals on the plate – introduced mouton (mutton) and boeuf (beef). Today, nearly thirty percent of English words come from French.

As a result, modern English is commonly thought of as a West Germanic language with lots of French and, thanks to the church, Latin influence. But this history of English’s development leaves out a very important piece of the linguistic puzzle – Old Norse: the language of the Vikings.
How To Speak Viking

The Old Norse noun víking meant an overseas expedition, and a vikingr was someone who went on one of these expeditions. In the popular imagination, the Vikings were essentially pirates from the fjords of Denmark and Norway who descended on medieval England like a bloodthirsty frat party; they raped, pillaged, murdered, razed villages and then sailed back across the North Sea with the loot.

But the truth is far more nuanced. The earliest Viking activity in England did consist of coastal raids in the early ninth century, but by the 870s the Danes had traded sword for plow and were settled across most of Northern England in an area governed by treaties known as the Danelaw. England even had Danish kings from 1018 to 1042. However, the more successful and longer-lasting Norman conquest in 1066 marked the end of the Viking era and virtually erased Danish influence in almost all aspects of English culture but one: its effect on the development of the English language. [...]
It's an interesting history, showing examples and explaining the roots and usage of many of the words we use today. The viking influence lives on not just in our vocabulary, but grammer structure and usage. Some linguists even claim that English should be reclassified as a North Germanic language (along with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish), rather than a West Germanic language (with Dutch and German). Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.
     

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