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October 31, 2006

Anthropologists out of the job soon?

Probably not, but the New York Times reports that computers are getting pretty sophisticated:

Computer scientists from academia and companies like I.B.M. and Google discussed topics including social networks, digital imaging, online media and the impact on work and employment. But most talks touched on two broad themes: the impact of computing will go deeper into the sciences and spread more into the social sciences, and policy issues will loom large, as the technology becomes more powerful and more pervasive.

Posted by Will at 09:16 PM


I’ve made it back to Tampa after a busy and eventful weekend. My sister was successfully married in Cary and is currently relaxing with her new husband in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. I simply cannot explain how jealous I am (that she’s in the mountains, although Jason is a really swell guy). I gave my Lewis Binford presentation in theory class today and it went okay. I still can’t seem to get over the nervousness and shaky voice thing, but I don’t feel so bad because I definitely wasn’t the worst presenter of the day. Now it’s back to the daily grind until Thanksgiving break when I get to escape from Tampa again. Until then my main project will be a study I’m doing in my Bioarchaeology course with some cataloged human remains from the American Southwest (more to come on that).

Posted by Will at 09:07 PM

October 26, 2006

Not all at once now

I'm off to North Carolina early tomorrow morning for my sister's wedding in Raleigh. Very excited about seeing everyone and welcoming a new brother-in-law who, by the way, is now my #1 threat as the family's computer tech guy...

And so it is...that time of the semester when all the work comes cascading down in an almost unbearable waterfall of reading, writing, and statistics. Almost unbearable. I don't have time for laundry or even a haircut before I leave tomorrow so needless to say, the next 24 hours are crutial. The wedding and reception is on Saturday, then I'm spending a few days in Wilmington before heading back home to Tampa. Probably no blogging until then. Until we meet again...

Posted by Will at 08:54 AM

October 25, 2006

First Issue of the Four Stone Hearth is up!

I recently wrote about the Four Stone Hearth, a new blog carnival some bloggers and I developed with Kambiz from Anthropology.net. He has done a great job on the inaugural issue (which includes my recent post about Lewis Binford), so be sure to check it out. Remember, the Four Stone Hearth will be hosted at Nomadic Thoughts on December 20th! Next up is Afarensis on November 8th, so stay tuned to that blog if you want to submit one of your anthropology-related entries.

Posted by Will at 07:54 PM

October 24, 2006

This can't be serious...

george-clooney.jpgAskMen.com has published the Top 49 Men, or those men that readers have determined as best representatives of the male gender. The number one "man's man" is George Clooney. Also on the top of the list is Jay-Z and Richard Branson, among others. Now, these men are certainly manly, but "best representative of the male gender"? Can you freakin' imagine the flack a woman's magazine would get if they named Paris Hilton and Angelina Jolie best representative of the female gender? Thanks, but no thanks. George Clooeny is a fine actor and Jay-Z had one good song when it was produced by a non-rapper (99 Problems), but I'll stick to not generalizing an entire gender based on an out-of-touch Hollywood elite. The only person mentioned in the CNN.com article that I maybe agree with is Lance Armstrong, although he too is freakishly abnormal. But what's the criteria, you ask? Well, according to AskMen.com they gave up trying to come up with a list of use-submitted criteria. I assume this means that a manly man basically means anything:

In the end, we decided to let the list speak for itself. The Top 49 Men of 2006 is the product of more than one million votes cast by AskMen.com readers, and every guy on it possesses some quality, characteristic or virtue that we men prize and strive to cultivate in ourselves. You, the AskMen.com reader, built this list; now get on with reading it. Start with number 49.

Ah yes, a quality, characteristic or virtue that I try to cultivate in myself. I've always wanted Richard Branson's beard.

Posted by Will at 10:04 AM

October 22, 2006

Lewis Binford

lewisbinford.jpgReturning to archaeology for a moment here on Nomadic Thoughts, I thought I would talk about my latest paper, this time for the archaeological theory course I’m talking. We were asked to choose a prominent American archaeologist and write a biographical sketch about that person and give a 15-minute conference presentation to the class. It’s not due for over a week, but I need to have the paper finished by Friday morning because my sister is getting married this weekend in North Carolina.

I am writing about Lewis Binford, the SMU archaeologist who is best known for his association with the New Archaeology, a movement he helped start in the early 1960s and one that drastically changed how archaeology is done in the United States. There are several aspects of Binford’s life that I can relate to: he was born in the south (Norfolk, VA), was a Boy Scout, and received a B.A. in anthropology from the University of North Carolina. He also has an unwavering dedication to the scientific method and the entire scientific worldview. Binford embraces his ignorance and believes that lack of knowledge is the most satisfying aspect of science because it drives us to learn more. Much of this comes from his father, who taught him never to blindly accept received knowledge. This way of thinking stayed with Binford through the present, and is evident in his works about theory and method in archaeology. One of his first published papers, Archaeology is Anthropology (1962, American Antiquity 28:2), is a bold statement about how archaeology really does have something to say about the human condition. Before then, and during Binford’s UNC and Michigan years, he became increasingly dissatisfied with how archaeology was often partitioned off from ethnography and cultural anthropology. This is still true today, with some cutting all ties to anthropology to form separate archaeology departments. What Lewis Binford did was bridge the gap that, at that time, was inherent in the field. The 1962 American Antiquity paper didn’t single handedly change the face of the discipline in the United States, nor did Binford, but he certainly elucidated and put on paper some revolutionary ideas that did have a great impact on method and theory in archaeology. The impression I get from reading Binford’s and others’ writing from the 60s is that archaeology was asleep up until then. It needed to be shaken up and reinvigorated so that it had contemporary relevance. Binford provided the initial push to this reorganization of thought and it snowballed from there.

One thing about Lewis Binford’s writing is that it is sometime (ok, often) hard to understand. He himself has even admitted that he does this on purpose, because if he writes clearly and the reader immediately understands what is being argued, then there is a risk that it will be blindly accepted and perpetuated as received knowledge. By burying his meaning in complicated prose Binford forces the reader to consciously deconstruct his argument by reading slowly and rereading even more slowly. Both Lewis Binford the man and Lewis Binford the archaeologist is a little rough around the edges, and this is precisely what made him so influential in the field.

I was having trouble coming up with a good introduction to hook my readers so I decided to take a hint from my professor and try out a little humor. Whether its actually funny or not is a matter of debate, but I’m sure it's amusing at the very least:

If the life of Lewis Roberts Binford was an artifact, it would be classified as grit-tempered with a serrated edge. As a feature, it would be described as a highly visible, multi-use structure with cross-generational significance. Articles would be published, volumes would be edited, and entire symposia would be organized for the purpose of trying to solve the problem of what the artifact once represented, if anything at all. Scholars would debate whether or not its true meaning can be gleaned from a mere surface examination of form. A processalist would subject the Binford life to a series of quantitative analyses in an effort to determine if variation can tell us something about its use. Far away, in a distant land, a post-processualist would claim that we can understand the Binford life’s meaning only by examining ourselves first. Somewhere in Florida, a graduate student would attempt to write a paper about the Binford life and immediately realize that an amusing introduction was the only way to maintain sanity during the course of his research. Usually artifacts can’t talk; we have to speak for them and give them meaning ourselves. In this case, the artifact can talk and it has had quite a bit to say over the years.

Most of the information I’m getting about Binford’s early life and college/graduate years comes from two volumes: An Archaeological Perspective by Binford and Conversations with Lew Binford by Paula Sabloff. The latter is an easy read and very fascinating.

Posted by Will at 03:34 PM | Comments (2)


DiwaliSwastika.jpgOne aspect of religious traditions that I love is the ceremonial. In fact, it's perhaps the main reason I pursued an undergraduate Philosophy & Religion degree. The beauty of the the world's religions (including Christianity and Islam) has always fascinated me and made me wish I could study it more. This time of the year, throughout the world, people are celebrating the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali. From Wikipedia:

Diwali, also called Deepavali (Sanskrit: दीपावली) is a major Hindu festival. Known as the "Festival of Lights," it symbolises the victory of good over evil, and lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope for mankind. The festival of Diwali is about harvesting. Celebrations focus on lights and lamps, particularly traditional diyas (as illustrated). Fireworks are associated with the festival in many regions of India.
Diwali is celebrated for five consecutive days in the Hindu month of Ashwayuja. It usually occurs in October/November, and is one of the most popular and eagerly awaited festivals in India. Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike regard it as a celebration of life and use the occasion to strengthen family and social relationships. For Jains it is one of the most important festivals, and beginning of the Jain year. Jains celebrate Diwali because Lord Mahavira achieved Moksha. It is also a significant festival for the Sikh faith. In 2006, Diwali will occur on October 21, 2006.


Some more links:
CNN.com slide show
HindustanTimes.com guide

Posted by Will at 11:27 AM

October 20, 2006

Worldview Quiz

As PZ notes, "compass quizzes" tend to be oversimplified, but they are telling to a certain degree. Based on the famous Political Compass, there is the Worldview Compass. Here's my result, followed by other notable people:



Posted by Will at 10:14 AM

October 18, 2006

Richard Dawkins on Colbert

Richard Dawkins was on the Colbert Report last night. As expected, Colbert's goofiness played well against Dawkins' seriousness and made for an entertaining interview. The genius of Colbert is how rediculous he sounds while accurately representing how many Americans think about God and evolution.

Previously on Nomadic Thoughts:
The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason

Posted by Will at 08:18 AM

October 15, 2006

Archaeology and Google Earth

The Raleigh N&O has a story of another example of the Google Earth program being used as an archaeological tool:

Web lets UNC prof do armchair archaeology
After 25 years of fieldwork abroad, UNC-Chapel Hill archaeologist Scott Madry has dug up a new way to hunt for ancient ruins -- without leaving home.
Last year, Madry read how an Italian man accidentally discovered the outline of an ancient Roman villa while looking at his house on Google Earth. Since then, with help from the French government, Madry has confirmed the free service's promise as a research tool. As the news spreads, other scientists are growing excited, too.

Madry claims to have found 101 potential archaeological sites in France and later confirmed that about 75% of those were actual sites on record. He presented his findings recently at the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology conference, a good sign that satellite imagery, specifically Google Earth technology, is growing as a legitimate research tool and making its move into the academic mainstream (much like the internet itself did several years ago). The only drawback is that not all areas of the globe are high enough in resolution to be very useful, including rural Northwest Honduras where I work. Over the years, I suspect that this will improve, maybe even in tandem with its use in archaeology.

Using satellite images and aerial photography are nothing new in archaeology, but this is the first time that researchers have been able to simply sit at their desk at no cost and no extra work and browse the globe like an online library catalog. Another promising step from Google's side is the recently-launched Google for Educators which attempts to make the company's technologies accessible to teachers for use in class and research projects. Google Earth is included, of course, and I can only hope that this will be one way to stimulate kids to become interested in geography and archaeology.

Posted by Will at 08:00 PM

October 12, 2006

HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean

This has been around for a few months but I stumbled across it today so I thought I would pass it along. A few months ago Science magazine had a special section about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Latin America, which has been overlooked in the scientific and academic literature (most of the focus has traditionally been on Africa). San Pedro Sula in northwest Honduras, where I was this past summer, has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in Central America, which really surprised me because I had never heard of the city before.

The companion website is an interactive map of Central America where you can click on different countries and it brings up a short narrated videos and some stats about that country (see the screenshot below). It's a very well-done site that's not bogged down with numbers and raw data, just the facts and faces to put with them. See The Overlooked Epidemic: HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean.


Posted by Will at 04:59 PM

October 11, 2006

One year ago today...

I like to do this from time to time:

The Big One
8:50 PM
I am starting tonight on my first research paper for graduate school (see this post), or I should say its abstract, outline, and bibliography. I have a stack of journal articles, book reviews, and library volumes surrounding my laptop and I must say, it's the greatest feeling in the world. It's only overwhelming in the sense that I want to read every word there is to read about Ancient Maya agriculture and ancestral land use, but there are only so many hours in the day. The hard part is going to be keeping each paper under the recommended ten to fifteen page limit (remember when a 10-page paper was daunting?). I'm ready to sink my teeth into the three papers this semester but not before the realization that I really am a very, very small fish just starting out in a very large ocean.

Posted by Will at 12:13 PM

October 10, 2006

New Anthropology blog carnival: Four Stone Hearth

Myself and several other bloggers have been collaborating with Kambiz from Anthropology.net on a new project called Four Stone Hearth. It is a blog carnival focusing on topics related to the four subfields of anthropology (hence the four stones). If you're not familiar with blog carnivals, check out the brand new official Four Stone Hearth website at fourstonehearth.net or the Wikipedia article. Kambiz did a fantastic job on the web design and organizing everything. Nomadic Thoughts will be hosting the carnival on December 20th, so stay tuned for more info as that date gets closer. Until then, first up is Anthropology.net on the 25th.

Posted by Will at 10:57 AM

October 09, 2006

Path to Floresiensis

Carl Zimmer does it again with another all-around fantastic post, this time about the two-year scientific history of Homo Floresiensis. One of the best science bloggers out there, so add The Loom to your lists.

Posted by Will at 03:51 PM

October 03, 2006

What geeks do with their birthday money

sciencemag.gifWhen most people receive money for their birthday they spend it one something like CDs, DVDs, or a cool computer game. Not I. I am now a proud card-carrying student member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of the cutting-edge journal Science. For the next 51 weeks I'll get the latest news from the all over the science world including a handful of academic articles that might as well be in Sanskrit (संस्कृतम्). Like the hair-raising Structure of the Exon Junction Core Complex with a Trapped DEAD-Box ATPase Bound to RNA or the much more light-hearted and whimsical Dok-7 Mutations Underlie a Neuromuscular Junction Synaptopathy (to mention only two articles from the latest issue). I'm going to assume these articles discuss something important for my health and that my membership dues are thus going to important research, but Science does have great news coverage and the occasional report on human evolution or development.

naturemag.jpgNot content with relying only on Science for my intake of over-my-head hard research, I also subscribed to Nature, the other "the scientific journal." They generally have all the good human origins stuff and other anthropology-related material (again, among all the reports with 20 words in their name). Great news coverage from Nature as well and online access to the entire archives since 1869 is a nice bonus.

Worried that Nature and Science will overload me, I also threw in a subscription to Scientific American, a far more mainstream with more pretty pictures and archaeology-related articles. Not as dense as the other two, it's probably the third most authoritative general science publication in the country. They periodically release excellent posters and graphics with their magazines, much like National Geographic. Hey, National Geographic...oh nevermind.

Posted by Will at 09:22 PM

October 02, 2006

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

dawkinsphoto.jpgJust after finishing up Sam Harris' fantastic new book Letter to a Christian Nation, I received Richard Dawkins' latest that just came out, The God Delusion. A review, if I write one at all, won't be for another several weeks but suffice it to say that these two books are on track to being two of the most important books since On the Origin of Species (ok, that may be a slight overstatement but definitely the most important books published since September 11th, 2001).

dawkins.jpgI was pleased to discover in one of the footnotes in The God Delusion that Richard Dawkins and others have launched a foundation dedicated to supporting the quest of science and reason, which is essentially (as I understand it) to supplant religious dogmatism in the world, especially in the United States. Dawkins notes early on in his book that atheists and humanists have been reluctant to organize and mobilize in order to achieve real progress in world and national politics because of the very nature of nonbelief. The Dawkins Foundation is a good start and I'm amazed at the wealth of resources already gathered on the site (I'm not sure when exactly it was launched, but it must have been recently).

There is an excellent introductory video that explains the objectives and is a good summary of the goal of the science- and reason-based movement. To everyone, I highly recommend Dawkins' latest book. As Penn and Teller are quoted on the back of the dustjacket: "The God Delusion is smart, compassionate, and true like ice, like fire. If this book doesn't change the world, we're all screwed."

Visit the RichardDawkins.net and poke around.

Posted by Will at 06:04 PM

Twenty Four


Today I turned the ripe ol' age of 24 (technically yesterday now). That's one year less than a quarter century. This is the first time in my life when I've actually felt...old. I partied with some friends over the weekend and watched the Bears game with my buddy on Sunday Night Football. Unfortunately, I forgot to play the "24" drinking game:

Posted by Will at 12:52 AM | Comments (1)

October 01, 2006

It's all in the DNA

There's a well-written and more or less informative article in TIME this week about our cousins, What Makes Us Different? You can read the entire article online.


Posted by Will at 11:53 AM