The no update update

So I haven’t been posting anything for over a week now. This is mainly because I have nothing new to report. The only thing archaeology related lately has been me sending out a continuous stream of cover letters and applications for jobs all across the nation and hearing nothing in return. I’m starting to lose heart.

Will update if something positive develops.

I’m not a fantastic writer but…

Let me begin by saying that I know full well that trashy paperbacks are supposed to be brain candy.  When I first became interested in reading for pleasure, sometime around the 7th or 8th grade, I read nothing but a long line of bad sci-fi, bad fantasy, and bad war books. By about midway through high school I went through a phase where I read nothing but high literature. This was a stupid phase to go through as most classical literature and other urbane reading doesn’t really appeal to me. I was putting on airs and trying to pass myself off as sophisticated and cultured, when really I was just a dumb shit. Thing is that deep down, I like reading books about space ships and airplanes and bombs and explosions. I’ve gotten over the elves and dragons crap though.

I pretty much stopped reading fiction in the last few years as nothing is really able to sustain my interest all the way through, but every once in a while something will catch my eye and I’ll turn a few pages. I suppose most of the fiction I do read now is historical fiction of one kind or another.  Most of it in the form of war stories, or fictionalized historical adventure stories like Gerry Jennings’ Aztec series, or his book about Marco Polo. The Aztec books are still some of my favorite books, even if they aren’t great literature. I’m also enjoying Zane Gray’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” right now, but it’s no page turner and I’m going through it slowly.  A few weeks ago a friend gave me a book which got me pretty excited at first. The story is called “Thunderhead”.

It is brain candy in it’s purest form. It’s about a young archaeologist who discovers a letter leading her to a lost Anasazi city. Along the way, strange warewolf like monsters become involved. Pure bullshit, but also pure fun. I read the first quarter of the book and got a good laugh at the authors’ treatment of archaeology that read like something a first year undergrad might write (there was an especially laughable section about the super secret USGS 7.5″ topo map library), and the conversations between archaeologists where they used technical terminology around one another that was really overdone. But still it was fun.

Throughout the read, as each new character was introduced, I kind of got a good feeling who would die, who was actually a villain, and who would end up becoming indispensable in the end.  They were all stock characters. You had the young spoiled rich girl, the tough talking Latina, the dweeby but good hearted computer nerd who wanted a taste of adventure, the cowboy, the stuck up asshole professor, the cold, but ultimately kind older doctor,  the ethnic chef, the repulsive lousy news reporter, and at the center of them all, the morally upright, courageous, tenacious, and almost boringly faultless heroine.  I bet you can read that list and tell me who dies , who gets laid, and who ends up being evil without even knowing anything else about the book.  Are they all two dimensional characters? Yes. Are they really difficult to sympathize with and care about? Yes, but that’s ok. The fact remains that there are weird menacing wolf monsters lurking in the shadows picking these people off, so it’s still a page turner.

And then the bottom falls out. I don’t know why authors of historical fiction sometimes feel the need to come up with some entirely pie-in-the-sky scenarios for what happened in the past? I know that in the case of the Anasazi, we don’t know much about specific events. I’m also aware that the author’s aren’t professional historians or anthropologists, but god damn, the revelation they throw out at the end is so laughable, far fetched, and at the same time unimaginative, that the story entirely loses whatever staying power it had developed up to this point.  It’s the same dumb trick Elizabeth Kostova pulled in “The Historian”, and it’s what let’s Dan Brown laugh on the way to the bank each morning, but it’s so damned unnecessary.

In the entire experience of human history, things have happened, things we know well about, that were far more interesting, menacing, creepy, unsettling, exciting, heroic, or otherwise extraordinary, than anything these authors came up with. If you’re going to write historical fiction, research the time and culture you’re writing about, and include those fantastic people, places, and events into your narrative! Don’t weave horseshit when there’s already a good yarn!*

*I just made that idiom up, and I hope it becomes part of the American lexicon!

Mudflats

I did a small archaeological survey project in the community of Warm Beach, Washington today.  It was a quick and dirty field job that took a few hours. Once I leave Washington I’m going to miss these quicky one day in the field type projects. It’s really nice to get to come home at the end of the work day.

I didn’t find anything in the field (with the exception of modern trash) but while doing historic background research for the project I discovered a cool little bit of history. During the period of contact in the late 18th century, there were two Stillaguamish villages and a potlach house in the vicinity. It’s a nice spot for a long-term winter village as it’s situated right near where the Stilliguamish River delta meets Port Susan, part of the northern Puget Sound. The river has dumped tons of silt into the marine estuary over the years creating extensive mud flats, where shellfish harvests would have been very rich,  reliable and predictable.

The photo above shows only a portion of the flats near the area I worked on today, and this photo was taken after the tide began to come in.  At really low tide the flats  reach out about halfway down the body of water seen in the photo. That’s Port Susan, and in the distance is Camano Island. The point is that with such dramatic low tides and so much muddy silt you could really get into a bind if you’re a sailor unfamiliar with the area.

That was exactly what happened on  the morning of June 1, 1792. The HMS Chatham, and the HMS Discovery were the first European ships to sail into the northern Puget Sound. In the foggy morning, the Chatham soon became stuck in the mud off the coast of Warm Beach. The Discovery  sent its ships boats to assist but they promptly became stuck as well.  By midnight that day as the tide came back in the Chatham became unstuck, but the lead man taking the depth soundings that morning, one David Dorman received 36 lashes for his negligence.  The punishment was ordered by none other than the leader of the expedition, and captain of the Discovery,  the well known British explorer Capt. George Vancouver.

Oh yeah, two chins at the same time!

We all know that Vancouver has had a sizable island and major metropolitan area in British Columbia named for him.  Meanwhile Dorman, for his troubles, gets nothing more than a lousy blog entry.

Is it a bird? Is it a Douglas fir? No, it’s Mold!!!

I’m not a biologist, but as a zooarch I sometimes like to pretend that I am. Just a few minutes ago I became intrigued by mold.

Go forth and multiply

So mold is pretty nasty when it grows in your house, on that piece of fruit way back in the far corner of the fridge, or worse, on your body. Still when you look at it up close; really really close, it’s pretty fascinating.  Look real close and you’ll see a bunch of tiny little hairs.

tah-nee whatt hurs…

Only those aren’t hairs but hyphae. Each Hypha (not to be confused with the town in Israel which is spelled Haifa!) is a vegetal filament filled with cells and surrounded by an outer cell wall. The cells inside are separated by wall like structures called septa , which are sort of like plant cell walls, only not. Remember, molds are fungi, not plants.

Anyway, the septa are porous so that materials, including food for the mold can pass through them and reach each cell in the filament.  If I were to make a horrible analogy, I would say that each filament is a dude, and that each cell is like one of the dude’s body parts. And when you see mold on a piece of fruit, well that’s like a bunch of dudes…on a piece of fruit.

mold

Back to mold though. We all know mold, like other fungi doesn’t get its energy from sunlight like a good ‘ol plant would. Thankfully, molds, mushrooms and their ilk also don’t have mouths,  so how does it eat?  Each Hypha has special cells near its tip that secrete enzymes which break down organic materials (that piece of fruit in the fridge again – you really should throw that out you slob) and create energy for the cells inside the hypha. As the mold grows, it grows at the tip, and here is where it gets cool.

As the tip grows, new septa form behind the tip to form new cells.  Sometimes the new cell that gets pinched off by the septa will in essence fall off and become the basis of a new hypha. It’s called vegitative reproduction. It’s how plant clippings work, and how animal hair doesn’t. It’s why you don’t become a parent after each haircut. It’s why fungi are so damn cool. They have these plant like traits, and some animal like traits; like the puking on its food to break it down and eat it.

Gross!

But wait. Ever notice how wherever there is mold, there isn’t much else living (meth heads in moldy apartments excluded)? Why? Because molds release biochemicals that pretty much kill of their non-moldy neighbors. Why is that cool? Because penicillin that’s why! Alexander Flemming was able to control this process and in turn ended up saving countless lives. So next time you think “yuck” when you see some mold, take a closer look. It’s sort of cool, and might save your life some day. That is if it hasn’t already.

Eat that John McClain!

Precision and Accuracy. Part the Second.

I tried my wife’s checklist suggestion today on a report I’m working on. It worked. I caught about four or five small but obnoxious errors that I made.

I set up a list as follows:
Map locations/labels
Figure/table captions
Cover Page info
Table of Contents headings/Pg #s
Footer formatting
Measurements/distances
# of sites/surveys in project area
compass directions of objects/sites
References cited/ (match to in-text citations)
Shovel probe/soil data
CRM laws mentioned/identified
punctuation
spelling.

This forced me to go through the document a few times and pay really close attention to particular aspects. This worked better than the quick skim that often passes for my editing efforts. It takes much longer though, so unfortunately the cost will have to be passed on to our clients.

Tomorrow morning I’ll give the report one more read-through out loud to make sure everything is consistent and my arguments cogent.

That’s a nice Dr. John term right there 🙂

More friends going :(

One of the worst things about the semi-sedentary lifestyle my wife and I have is that we’re constantly loosing friends. It doesn’t help when your friends lead much the same kind of lifestyles. Erin (my wife) works at the Western Washington University Arch lab as a collections manager, so she’s managed to befriend some really cool student types.


Erin gets a cookie!

We became particularly good friends with Jamie and Alyson Palmer, and this week they’re moving down to Utah. Jamie got a good position with the BLM in Salt Lake City, and Alyson will be doing work with the Park Service near Vernal this summer. We took advantage of the nice weather today and invited friends for a going away cookout. It was a good time. Shane brought home made guacamole, and somebody brought a broccoli salad. Since this is America, we also had lots of burgers and beer.


(L-R) Alyson, Jamie, Ashely, Jo.


Whitney and Brant brought their dog Sadie over. She’s the brown one. The little beggy looking fellow is my dog Ivan.


Very beggy.

We closed off with a game of semi-drunken Cranium

and a little fire. Always time for fire. Even if it’s just a little one.

 

 

Anyway, congratulations and happy trails to Jamie and Alyson.

Precision and Accuracy

I have a problem.

It is a big problem, and it has taken some time for me to come to terms with it.

As a professional scientist (and that is what we archies like to think of ourselves as), I am supposed to do precise work. This means precise, accurate measurements, precisely recorded data, and clearly, and precisely presented results.

I am also the world’s shittiest asshole of an editor. Everybody makes mistakes, but most people have the mental focus to go through their work, catch their mistakes and hopefully fix them. When editing my own work I tend to gloss things over and not pay close enough attention. This leads to things like occasionally dropped periods, missing articles (a, the, an) or really obnoxiously stupid stuff like writing southeast when I mean to say southwest. I have gotten in trouble for it before, and so I have been more conscious of the problem and have made a valiant attempt to lessen it. But I still miss things.

My wife suggested making myself a checklist and systematically going through my drafts to make sure all is there. I think this is a good start. Also must start reading what I wrote out loud to myself so that I force myself to slow down and look at every word.

I don’t know if I have any actual readers on this page, but if any of you have suggestions to make, then please make them.