Twin Towers
Originally uploaded by wstera2

It’s now exactly ten years ago that the first plane crashed into the Twin Towers. I was sitting in DAIMI‘s computer lab at the time, and I found out shortly afterwards from some Internet news source, and I quickly went up to the TV room together with lots of other people, where we watched the second plane crashing into the building live on CNN.

I remember thinking at the time that George W. Bush to a large extent was responsible by infuriating most of the world with his unilateralist, born-again, right-wing policies and that it would never have happened if Al Gore had become president instead.

I find it interesting to contemplate what would have happened if 9/11 had never happened. For instance, if the CIA had found out about the plot and prevented the hijackers from boarding the planes, there would probably have been a newspaper story about the plot, but most people wouldn’t have assumed that it actually could have brought down the Twin Towers.

So what would the consequences have been? Obviously Afghanistan wouldn’t have been invaded at that point, but I believe Dubya would still have been keen to invade Iraq. Would he have succeeded in building up an alliance without 9/11? He probably would have found it easy to convince Tony Blair, but I reckon it would have been hard to add many more countries to the coalition.

I also think Bush might not have been reelected in 2004, which would have led to all sorts of consequences later, for instance for the handling of the recession.

In most western countries, there wouldn’t have been such a rush to introduce anti-terrorism legislation, and civil liberties would have remained stronger.

In Denmark, I doubt Dansk Folkeparti would have managed to play such a pivotal role if the public hadn’t been scared witless by the thought of Muslim terrorists.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that al-Q??idah would have managed to pull off an even worse atrocity later if 9/11 hadn’t happened. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I find it more likely than not that the world would have been a slightly better place if 9/11 hadn’t happened ten years ago.

How to get rid of visitors

I think I mentioned that we spent last week in Keith with the rest of Phyllis’ family. We drove up to our holiday home via Pitlochry, but we returned via Urquhart Castle and Glencoe (see the map on the left).

The idea was to have a quick look at Urquhart Castle during our lunch break.

However, when we got there, we realised they had built a wall and planted trees to prevent visitors from seeing the castle without paying the entrance fee of £7.20 for adults and £4.30 for children between 5 and 15. This would have meant that for all of us to get in we would have had to pay £57.40 – a hefty price to eat our sandwiches in a ruin.

Needless to say, we tried to climb the wall to take a few photos and then ate our lunch in the car park, followed by a toilet break in the next village because they wouldn’t even let you use their toilets without paying the entrance fee.

As far as I could gather, almost nobody paid to get in. I wouldn’t rule out that many tourists would pay that much during the summer holidays, but they would definitely make more money in April if they lowered the price.

What gets me is also that they had absolutely no rebates for families. If our kids had been closer together in age (e.g., 13, 11, 9, 7 and 5 instead of 13, 11, 5, 3 and 1), a single visit would have cost us £35.90. That kind of price just prevents families with many kids from going altogether. Will people setting the price for attractions never understand that large families typically have less money left to spend on entertainment than families with 1.4 kids? Of course it’s our own choice to have many kids, but the result is that we just don’t go to places that charge a high entrance fee for each child.

That said, it looks like you can get free admission to lots of castles including Urquhart Castle if you join Historic Scotland, which costs £79.80 per year for two adults with up to six kids. That actually is a fairly reasonable price – I just wish all the individual attractions would adopt a similar pricing scheme.

English blood

The kids’ ancestry
Originally uploaded by viralbus

Dougie, my father-in-law, has always been a bit of a Scottish nationalist, and England has always seemed a bit of a foreign country to him.

However, my genealogical research has now established that his paternal grandmother was English (probably from Ashton-under-Lyne in Greather Manchester) and only moved to Glasgow when she was between 7 and 10 years old.

This means, of course, that the kids are one-sixteenth English, apart from all their Scottish, Danish (for Anna and Amaia – French for Marcel, Charlotte and Léon), German and Irish ancestry, as illustrated on the left.

We should all sit down and write our memoirs

Moominpapa writing his memoirs
Originally uploaded by glenasena

From time to time I spend a bit of time researching our family trees.

As soon as you go back a few generations, you’re often in the situation that you know almost nothing about your ancestors. Typically, you’ll know their name and details of their birth, as well as the names of their parents and spouse and perhaps some of their siblings; perhaps you’ll also know their occupation and where they lived.

However, that is all. People who lived long and full lives and whose genes are alive in our bodies are now reduced to a few titbits of statistical information.

I’m starting to think we should all write our memoirs. Not necessarily huge books, perhaps just ten or twenty pages, but something that our descendants might one day dig out and enjoy reading.

Of course there is no guarantee that your memoirs won’t be chucked out unread by an insensitive ancestor, but I would think there should be a good chance they’ll survive, especially these days when it’s so easy to make a large number of copies.

Are we related to people born before 1575?

Babbitt Family Tree
Originally uploaded by FrodoBabbs

While sampling some nice beer in Århus earlier this year with my good old friend Thomas Mailund, we had an interesting discussion about how long our genes live on for.

I was reminded of this discussion when I managed to find my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather on Google. His name was Georg Widmann, and he was born around 1532 in Heiningen in Württemberg.

However, as I discussed a few years ago, we get half our genes from our father and the other half from our mother; we therefore get 25% from each grandparent, 12.5% from each great-grandparent, etc., so when do we reach a point when there’s nothing left?

According to Wikipedia, the “haploid human genome contains ca. 23,000 protein-coding genes”. 23,000 can be halved 14.49 times, which equals around 435 years (at a generation length of 30), and this means that any ancestor born before the year 1575 is likely to have contributed less than one gene to our genome. (Georg is of course an exception – ignoring the possibility of adultery and mutations, my Y chromosome is an exact copy of his.)

One can look at the numbers differently, too. Genes are defined by the “2.9 billion base pairs of the haploid human genome”. 2,900,000,000 can be halved 31.43 times, taking us back 943 years to the year 1157, but that will include ancestors who have only contributed junk DNA.

The “human genome contains vast regions of DNA the function of which, if any, remains unknown. These regions in fact comprise the vast majority, by some estimates 97%, of the human genome size.” 3% of 2.9 billion base pairs is 87 million base pairs, which would take us back 791 years to the year 1219.

However, the “nucleotide diversity between humans is about 0.1%, which is 1 difference per 1,000 base pairs.” That would take us down to 87,000 base pairs that actually matter, and that number can be halved 16.41 times, which would take us back 492 years to the year 1608.

To conclude, I’m not absolutely sure what the cut-off point should be. There’s definitely no point in doing genealogy further back than the year 1157 (except for pure patrilineal and matrilineal descent), but there are good arguments also for stopping in 1219, 1575 or 1608.

En dag i Jorvig

Jorvik Viking Centre
Originally uploaded by Peter Vajda

Den 27. juli kørte vi fra vores telt nær Bridlington til Jorvig (også kendt som York) for at se deres vikingemuseum, Jorvik.

Landevejen til Jorvig går gennem et landskab, der med sine bakker, gule kornmarker, bøgetræer og røde murstenshuse lige så godt kunne have ligget i Danmark. Det var måske en lille smule frodigere. Min indre viking råbte til mig, at jeg burde slå en lokal bonde ihjel og overtage hans gård.

Men da Phyllis kørte bilen, kom vi til Jorvig i god behold.

Museet var for en dansker ikke ret interessant – det var fuldt af den slags vikingeting, som man kan se på et hvilket som helst dansk museum.

Men det gjorde alligevel et stort indtryk på mig.

I underetagen var der nemlig en gut, som var klædt ud som viking, og som var ansat til at vise børnene sine våben.

Den mand kunne have været min fætter! Samme elegante hårgrænse, samme hovedfacon, samme øjne, lignende kropsbygning og størrelse.

Men han var tydeligvis fra omegnen af Jorvig, ikke fra Danmark.

Jeg ville sikkert ikke have tænkt synderligt over det, hvis jeg lige var flyttet hertil fra Danmark; men fordi jeg nu har boet her så længe, har jeg helt vænnet mig til, at jeg ikke ligner de lokale, så det var en meget speciel følelse pludselig at ligne de lokale uden at forlade denne ø.

Bortset fra sproget er jeg nu helt overbevist om, at området og menneskene omkring Jorvig er tættere på Danmark end på Skotland.

Selv deres mentalitet er dansk. Skotter er generelt sjuskede, men i Danelagen er folk ordentlige som danskere og tyskere. Alle indkøbsvogne blev stillet sirligt på plads, og så videre.

PS: Jeg er ikke helt sikker på, hvad Jórvík ville have heddet på nudansk. Jeg vil tro, mulighederne burde være Jorvig, Jørvig eller måske Yrvig.


Our parents’ generation were born at a time of strife and poverty, but after that things got better and better for them. However, the picture for our generation is much more complex.

I was therefore very interested when I found a book from 1991 (“Generations” by Strauss and Howe), which claims that there are types of generations, and that these types are repeated in a cycle.

In that way, Phyllis and I are part of a generation which in many ways has more in common with the people born between 1883 and 1900 (that is, those who were hit by the Great Depression when they were between 28 and 46 and for whom WWII ended when they were between 45 and 62).

And to Phyllis and me, the following quote sounds very modern: “We have not men fit for the times. We are deficient in genius, in education, in travel, in fortune – in everything. I feel unutterable anxiety.” However, it was uttered by John Adams (1735-1826), a member of our generation, just three cycles earlier.

Of course, this generational cycle idea cannot be proven, but the fact that the book is nearly twenty years old makes it more powerful, because it sounds spookily prophetic in places.

For instance, the book discusses how different generations would handle a terror attack, and bear in mind that George W. Bush was a baby-boomer (“Boomer” in this book’s terminology):

Finally, suppose the terrorists were to strike during the upcoming Crisis constellation […]. Boomer leaders […] would neither hide nor ponder the rumor; instead, they would exaggerate the threat […] and tie it to a larger sense of global crisis. Unifying the nation as a community, these leaders would define the enemy broadly and demand its total defeat – regardless of the human and economic sacrifices required. (p. 375)

This following looks pretty prophetic, too:

By the late 1990s, […] [pay] will be increasingly market-driven […]. Year-to-year results will be rewarded more than lifetime achievement. The stars who can win, show Ruthian bravado, and fill arenas will make fantastic sums (enhanced by international bidding).


Looking for a lightning strike at success, 13ers will dart from job to job. Their mobility will discourage employers from investing in job training – or from offering pensions to new hires.

I’m not saying the book is correct in all its predictions, but it’s definitely worth a read.

I’ve not finished reading it yet, so I might blog more about it later.