October 01, 2007
Besides me being born a quarter century ago, and my mother posting a baby picture on her blog, October 1st has been a pretty interesting day in history:
1207 - Henry III, king of England, 1216-72
1685 - Charles VI, German emperor/king of Spain, 1711-40
1924 - Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize
1924 - William Rehnquist, 16th Chief Justice of the United States (d. 2005)
1963 - Mark McGwire, American baseball player
1982 - Will Klinger, Archaeologist
1811 - The first steamboat to sail the Mississippi River arrives in New Orléans, Louisiana.
1891 - In the U.S. state of California, Stanford University opens its doors.
1903 - Baseball: The Boston Americans play the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first game of the modern World Series.
1946 - Nazi leaders sentenced at Nuremberg Trials.
1957 - First appearance of "In God We Trust" on U.S. paper currency.
1971 - Walt Disney World opens near Orlando, Florida, United States.
1982 - Sony launches the first consumer compact disc player (model CDP-101).
1982 - Will Klinger born in Houston, Texas
1989 - Denmark: World's first legal modern same-sex civil union called "registered partnership"
National Day of the People's Republic of China (1949)
Republic of Cyprus - Independence Day (from Britain, 1960)
Nigeria - Independence Day (from Britain, 1960)
San Marino - two Captains Regent, elected by parliament, take office for six months.
Tuvalu - Independence Day (from Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), 1975)
French Republican Calendar - Cuve (Barrel) Day, tenth day in the Month of Vendémiaire
World Vegetarian Day
Singapore - Children's Day
World Health Organization - World Hepatitis Awareness Day
Armenia - Teachers' Day
Worldwide - Will Klinger Day
September 17, 2007
Art of Living
Yesterday I received a letter in the mail (the real mail) from Tom Schmid, the chair of the Dept. of Philosophy & Religion at UNC Wilmington where I was an undergrad. The letter was about signing up for the department alumni listserv. A rush of emotion hit me with his letter because it was signed - a rarity these days - and it included a handwritten note that referenced one of my blog posts from over two years ago (predating Nomadic Thoughts).
During the 2005 Spring semester at UNC Wilmington I took a philosophy course taught by Dr. Schmid entitled "The Art of Living." It was my senior year, and in retrospect proved to be one of the most important learning experiences of my life. The class was a seminar that focused on various philosophies related to what it means to live a fulfilling, moral life. Far from being some new age checklist of how to become one with God or nature, it was more an exploration of what it means to live a life in the best way possible, for yourself and everyone you come in contact with. The course didn't teach me what I needed to do to be happy. It taught me what I needed to do to figure those things out on my own. It was a refreshing alternative to what I had been taught in church and in popular culture, both of which I became disillusioned with as an undergraduate.
Part of the Art of Living course was to keep a blog for the semester where we talked about readings, philosophers, personal reflections, etc. Mine was appropriately entitled Will's Art of Living. I was browsing it tonight for a little nostalgia and came across the following passages. It reminded me of those all to short critical semesters when I learned much more than any textbook or academic could teach me. Sometimes while writing my thesis I get very frustrated and want to throw my research materials out of the window. This wouldn't be a good idea because library books are rather expensive. Instead, I take a break and think about what's really important in my life: family, friends, and freedom. My philosophy courses, and one teacher in particular, truly made me the type of person I am today. If you're so inclined, I've included some passages from my Art of Living blog that helps me put my current situation in perspective. They're below the fold. Thanks, Dr. Schmid.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
How about I talk about some light-hearted things for a change? This whole Art of Living thing is starting to drag me down ever so slightly...the class...the journal...the people. I've never taken a philosophy course before in my life. You don't have to ask such tough questions in archaeology. I'll stick to digging up old pottery sherds and medicine bottles as a profession. It's "what's the meaning of life and death?" vs. "what does this stratigraphic sequence of pottery suggest about the social status of those living here?" It's like philosophy is going into a dark cave to seek out the things you don't really want to think about but have to to give meaning to your life. And just when I think that it really, really sucks I tell myself that it's worth it. Philosophical inquiry is worth it.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Another aspect of my metamorphosis has been the realization that I lead an unusually comfortable and privileged life. I am healthy, live in a relatively free and safe society, I have no money problems, I have two parents who are married (to eachother!) that love and support me, I have friends who are there for me, and I have opportunity and a future. There is so much hatred, poverty, and negativity in the world but I have somehow managed to grow up in a privileged situation. That is not to say I am blind to this negativity but the fact that I have only recently realized the true scope and nature of it leads me to believe that it is because of that realization that I am growing as a person. I used to have a very bad temper but I almost never get angry anymore. I used to get very upset with my routine was disrupted or things didn't go my way, but now I just take things as they come and deal accordingly. While it still bothers me when things seem out of my control, I do not let the emotions rule me, which has proven disastrous in the past. For some reason I have matured to the point where I am now able to step back for a moment and really think about a potentially troublesome situation and how I should handle it. I can't tell you exactly where or when I learned how to do this, but I do feel it is connected with my trip to Belize and my present philosophy classes. One day it just snapped, and my temper and attachment to things going my way all of the time took a back seat to the more important things in life, which includes thinking more about other people and how I view them instead of how they view me.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Over the past four months, I have experienced a metamorphosis in the way I think about and view the world. This change, I feel, has much to do with the material covered in Philosophy 101. I believe that the format of the class has allowed me to not only learn about existential philosophy from an academic standpoint, but to apply existential concepts and themes to my own world. I have rejected many of the more extreme philosophies, such as nihilism and other overemphasis on death and despair. Conversely, I have embraced Heidegger's discussions of conscious awareness of death as the key to understanding and appreciating the nature of our existence. Although I have yet to fully grasp the intricacies of many of the philosophies discussed in class, they have made me realize that there is far more to life than simply existing.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
On a personal level, I can't think of a single more important concept than dialogue. Everything we do in life, every aspect of our existence, is governed by the idea that we are able to interact with those around us. Even the most reclusive hermit is influenced in his ways by the outside world. For this reason, it seems ridiculous to assume that anyone can progress through life by ignoring the ideas of others and not considering all reasonable options. In terms of my Art of Living, I have begun to incorporate dialogue into my everyday existence, the most significant manifestation of that being discussions via the internet. From reading blogs to posting my own thoughts on message boards, not only am I giving my opinion but I am nurturing and informing it at the same time. I am constantly disheartened at the amount of stubbornness that dominates many people's thought process, sometimes to the point of complete ignorance. While it is not my place to judge anyone for the way they think, I can only hope that science and reason will prevail in the end.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
So, as to avoid any awkward cliches, I will leave this journal the same person but with a new view of the world. In conjunction with my other philosophy course, I now fully realize that too much of our collective existence is centered around the individual...the "I." In a burst of bright light I came to the realization that my own existence does not begin and end with me. Unfortunately, I must live in a world where this concept goes unrealized. I do not loose all hope, however, as I refer back to my previous statement that such diversity is the only basis on which my life can have meaning and be worth living.
Posted by Will at 07:32 PM
March 08, 2007
Wrong direction for Spring Break?
I'm heading out to Chicago this morning on a road trip with my buddy. Some would say I'm going the wrong direction for Spring Break. Indeed, it's going to be close to 80 degrees in Tampa today and only about 35 in Chicago. My biggest goal is making it to the Field Museum of Natural History, home to one of the most famous anthropological collections in the world. After a weekend in Chicago I fly to Wilmington, NC to spend the week with my lady and enjoy my old college hometown. Plenty of photos to come.
February 11, 2007
The "history" of indie rock
I don’t like clichés, but I have noticed over the past couple of years the growing number of artists and music groups that appropriate a historical period as part of their image. Unconsciously or not, I am usually attracted to the music of such groups and while in theory their product should stand on its own, it doesn’t make the group less desirable to me that they are historically literate or dress like historical figures. I want to share some of my favorite groups and artists that look to history for inspiration and sometimes their sound. All the groups I talk about here are some of my favorite.
Perhaps the most fitting band for me to like is …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (or, “Trail of Dead” for short). Intriguing name, indeed. Formed in late 1994 in my home state of Texas, one would expect Trail of Dead to be some sort of crazy thrash metal band who worships Dimebag Darrel and Ozzy (when he used to bite the heads of off bats). Instead, Trail of Dead is one of the most artistically talented bands to emerge in the past decade and have, among other things, become the quintessential indie rock band. So why are they so fitting for me personally? Because much of their stage persona is derived from the ancient Maya civilization (note they formed well before Apocalypto was a glint of blood in Mel Gibson’s eye). Legend has it that the band’s name comes from a Maya ritual chant. Like Apocalypto, there’s little about Trail of Dead that is true ancient Maya, but the imagery and artwork is engrossing and adds to the pseudo-mystery of the band. At least they don’t focus on blood or dress like Maya kings.
One of the more famous indie bands to appropriate historical imagery is The Decemberists. Their name is a variation of that given to the 19th century political uprising in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Portland-based band even dresses like historical figures for photo shoots. It’s hard to get a firm grasp on one particular historical period: their music and lyrics have to do with 19th Century Russia, Civil War-era America, and almost everything in between. Their music is good, their lyrics read like a novel, and they make catchy, happy (sometimes sad) pure indie rock music.
The Good, the Bad, and the Queen is a band that I only found out about today and prompted me to write this post in the first place. I don’t know too much about them yet but their sound is great and they are made up of former members of really good bands. As a result, they are undoubtedly stuck with the questionable label of “side project.” The band consists of Damon Albarn of Blur, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, the former guitarist from the Verve Simon Tong, and according to Wikipedia an Afrobeat pioneer named Tony Allen. As they’re still new to me, I’m not completely sure of their use of history, but the name and album art (pictured) is clearly reminiscent of a historical period.
Joanna Newsom is a young musician from California that plays the harp, piano, and harpsichord and offers up her own brand of singing. Yes, her singing style is truly unique and I’ve never heard anything like it, but her music is mind blowing in its scope and sincerity. It’s emotional, beautiful, heartbreaking at times, and uplifting at others. Newsom’s connection to history comes from the classical feel of her music and the artwork of her latest album, the 5-song LP Ys. This is not an easy album to digest if you’re used to pop music that you hear on the radio. It’s even a bit difficult to those in to weird indie music, but after a few listens I was hooked and it became one of my favorite albums to relax to before going to bed.
December 28, 2006
Test your "brain sex"
I took the Sex I.D. Test on the BBC website and discovered that I have a brain more like a woman than a man. Needless to say, I take the results as a compliment. It takes about 20 minutes, and as PZ points out one shouldn't put too much stock into the results because of normal human variation. Regardless, I'm sure I'll score some points by telling my girlfriend the news...
Posted by Will at 06:07 PM
December 24, 2006
Happy Holidays from Nomadic Thoughts!
As is the tradition, here is the second annual Nomadic Thoughts "War on Christmas" card. Haven't heard too much from O'Reilly and Gibson this year, so I suppose they won the war after all. Best wishes whatever you celebrate (or don't)!
Posted by Will at 10:54 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 11, 2006
One year ago today...
I like to do this from time to time:
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 03, 2006
What geeks do with their birthday money
When 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.
Not 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
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:
September 24, 2006
Develop or Die
From the New York Times, depressing news from my previous neck of the woods:
Rare Woodpecker Sends a Town Running for Its Chain Saws
BOILING SPRING LAKES, N.C., Sept. 23 (AP) — Over the past six months, landowners here have been clear-cutting thousands of trees to keep them from becoming homes for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
The chain saws started in February, when the federal Fish and Wildlife Service put Boiling Spring Lakes on notice that rapid development threatened to squeeze out the woodpecker.
The agency issued a map marking 15 active woodpecker “clusters,” and announced it was working on a new one that could potentially designate whole neighborhoods of this town in southeastern North Carolina as protected habitat, subject to more-stringent building restrictions.
Hoping to beat the mapmakers, landowners swarmed City Hall to apply for lot-clearing permits. Treeless land, after all, would not need to be set aside for woodpeckers. Since February, the city has issued 368 logging permits, a vast majority without accompanying building permits.
What is the cost of development? From what I understand North Carolina has been exploding in terms of land development in the Raleigh area and now in the southeast part of the state. I remember when I was a freshman at UNC-Wilmington you could buy a lot of beachfront property at Carolina beach for a mere few hundred thousand dollars. Now many of the same lots are well over a million dollars, and that's just for the land itself. I mention this because it shows that people will pay absurd amounts of money to live in a beautiful environment. What many don't realize is that if development continues at the current pace and is left unchecked (indeed, promoted) by local governments then there won't be any beauty to enjoy anymore in North Carolina.
The situation in Boling Spring Lake is especially depressing because people are destroying the land preemptively; that is, landowners perceive a threat from the natural environment and are making sure it doesn't get in the way of any future plans they may have to further decimate one of the most ecologically diverse states in the country. I speak as someone who enjoys being among living things other than humans. But even from the uninformed point of view of the landowner who values a nice house over a nice view from that house, it makes no sense to slowly but surely chip away at their natural surroundings. The very reason they value their land in the first place is going to be the very reason that it's going to be an artificial wasteland a few decades for now. I've seen it happen firsthand in both my hometown and where I went to college and it's not a nice thing to think about.
The sad reality is that what is happening in Boling Spring Lake is perfectly legal, as evidenced by City Hall handing out hundreds of logging permits, seemingly unconcerned about long-term effects. The Fish and Wildlife Service is making it clear that development=no woodpeckers. Sure, it’s just a woodpecker whose numbers are dwindling, and it’s not really the woodpecker that I’m concerned about. It’s what the woodpecker represents that makes me sad. Humans have reached a level of unabated ignorance about the environment in exchange for big homes and even bigger cars. My hope is not that Americans return to their early history of living at one with nature (which is a myth, anyway) but that we simply turn our iPods off for a few minutes, unplug from the internet, step outside, and look around. We are literally killing our surroundings at a rapid pace yet we remain unaware of it. As with so many other issues affecting humans, education is the remedy. Learn that this earth is not here as a gift from God to us but a natural entity that we are a part of, not apart from. In terms of ecology, we are no more or less significant than a cockroach, a housefly, or a woodpecker. We each have a specific role to play and ours is not to eliminate the opportunity for other living things to carry out theirs.
Posted by Will at 01:07 PM
July 27, 2006
The Alma Mater
Here are some photos I shot today around the campus of my beloved undergrad institution, The University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Click the photos to go to the original Flickr photo page.
Posted by Will at 12:00 PM
July 19, 2006
Become your own reporter
If you're confused about what's going in the Middle East, Kos elucidates the situation quite eloquently:
So we've got Israel attacking Lebanon. Israel attacking Palestine. Hezbollah attacking Israel. Palestinians attacking Israel. Israel threatening to attack Syria and Iran. Iran meddling in Iraq. The US meddling in Iraq. Lots of terrorists and insurgents targeting the US. The US threatening Iran. Sunnis attacking Shiites. Shiites attacking Sunnis. The US and NATO fighting a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Kurds attacking Turks.
Seriously, things are getting pretty bad between Israel's offensive against Hezbollah. From my perusal of alternative media outlets it seems that much of the story as reported through the major US outlets is being skewed in one way or another (big surprise there). What we cannot forget is the face of war: the innocent victims that are caught between (and often at the receiving end of) bullets and bombs.
So how do we wade through all the useless garbage constantly muddling the airwaves of CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, and others? Over the past year or so I have become quite the news junkie, and I have my strategy down to a science. All you need is an open mind and an internet connection.
First, CNN and the other TV news outlets do serve a useful purpose despite carrying stories about Oprah's sexuality and President Bush caught saying "shit" while chatting with Tony Blair. CNN in particular is known for their worldwide network of reporters and bureaus positioned to provide up-to-the-second news as soon as it happens. For this reason, I often check CNN.com for breaking stories as they happen. That’s where they cease to be useful. Find what the headline is and get out.
The next step is to seek out news sources that aren’t based in the United States. This is especially critical with world news stories such as the Middle East situation and Darfur. My next stop is usually the international version of the BBC News homepage. While a major news outlet and not immune from biasness (no agency is), they offer a different angle on major stories and often report them in a more straightforward and concise manner. And like CNN, the BBC has a fantastic network of their own reporters around the world. So, between CNN and the BBC you are sure to read about every major news story out there if only by virtue of their highly integrated worldwide network.
As I mentioned, major news outlets are good for reading headlines, but the underlying significance of a story cannot be gleaned through a single outlet, especially the big ones. For that you have to rely on independent and aggregate outlets. Perhaps the best aggregate news outlet is Yahoo! News. They have spent quite a bit of money and energy into developing a pretty comprehensive website that pulls together stories from a host of news agencies, both big and small. Aside from a few public interest features, the meat of Yahoo! News is not original and are stories pulled from various sources. It’s usefulness lies in being able to quickly see how different agencies are reporting the same news and what priority they give a particular story. Another aggregate news site is Google News and they are unique because they don’t use human editors. All pages within Google News and computer generated based on the frequency of a particular story on outside sites monitored by Google. This virtually eliminates human bias and allows for lesser known but just as useful resources to surface.
My favorite, alternative news sources (or more accurately, opinion sources). I simply do not know enough about the world to recognize every possible angle of a story. Nobody does. As a result, we must rely on people that have a specific knowledge about a particular topic or geographical area. Finding these voices is often difficult because everyone and their mother thinks they are an expert. Typically from a global perspective, alternative sources are great for reading “the other side” of the story and seeing other points of view. Even if I don’t always agree with alternative descriptions of events, they are useful for making up your own mind. Sometimes, these sources do have original, first-hand reporting but usually they pick up on news from news wire services such as the Associated Press or Reuters and do further research. This research comes in the form of interviews, archival research, or simply applying one’s own knowledge to an event. Personal opinions sometimes find their way into alternative news stories but their insights are indispensable.
The Socialist Worker Online is a good example. The Socialist Worker is the newspaper of the International Socialist Organization: the extreme opposite of FOX News. While often extreme, their take on major stories is refreshing and makes you think. By no means an unbiased news source, The Socialist Worker online is more of a op-ed site than a traditional news agency but they sometimes highlight lesser known stories, typically human rights related, that don’t make the headlines of the more prominent outlets.
The online version of Mother Jones Magazine is in the same vein, but not as extreme as the Socialist Worker. They offer different takes on top stories and follow up that can’t be found anywhere else. As with many alternative sites, Mother Jones doesn’t pretend to be unbiased. They simply claim to bring forth stories you may otherwise never hear about and highlight perspectives that are typically suppressed in the mainstream media.
Truthdig.com is one of my favorite alternative news sites because its premises are exactly what I’ve been getting at in this post:
The purpose of our new Web magazine is to provide you with insightful and accurate reporting on current subjects and on issues that need to be brought to your attention. We want to challenge conventional wisdom. Over time, we hope to build a solid and reliable resource for those of you who want to explore particular topics by drilling down to unusual depth. In addition, we hope to create a home for thoughtful, provocative ideas and dialogue by a group of talented contributors and editors.
Truthdig is the epitome of what I want when I read the news: the story between the headlines. By bringing in a variety of editors and columnists, the site certainly exudes an air of relative objectivity in a world dominated by bloodthirsty corporate news agencies out for ratings. But as with any site that claims to present “the rest of the story,” one has to make up his or her own mind and go a step further by looking at still more sites.
As you can see, I am clearly a news junkie but I am even more of a truth junkie. I find nothing more satisfying in terms of news that finding out for myself what is happening in a different part of the world. You have to become your own reporter, culling information from a variety of sources and sorting out the hundreds of opinions that may or may not help you shape your own. It is dangerous to take what you hear on CNN or FOX News and think that’s the way things played out. It is equally unwise to rely solely on alternative sources for your information. They typically do not have the resources the large corporate agencies have at their disposal. The trick is to first figure out what is happening, then take a few minutes to search out other facts and opinions, including those that you are pretty sure you will disagree with (this is why I read Townhall.com for opinion and less frequently, FoxNews.com).
Posted by Will at 03:05 PM
July 13, 2006
Historic Downtown Wilmington
While on my mini-vacation in Wilmington, NC I decided to head downtown to take some photos, which I've uploaded to my Flickr page. Taking these shots made me realize how much I miss living in Wilmington: five minutes from a beautiful coast (photos of that to come) and a few minutes from an awesome historic district. Paradise.
Posted by Will at 07:35 PM
July 10, 2006
The Da Vinci Code
Today I finished reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and went to see the movie to kill some time. I have always been slightly behind in picking up on the latest fads and hypes, and this is no different. The Da Vinci Code has been out for a couple of years now and I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. Why? Because it recently hit me just how much the book is ruffling the feathers of the religious. I had to find out the reason.
I enjoyed the book thoroughly and is one of the few fiction novels I have read cover-to-cover. Regardless of the position you take on the subject matter, Dan Brown is a talented writer and knows how to craft an intriguing story that is both complex and easy to follow. The puzzles and instances of realization are very entertaining, and the historical explanations of the people, places, and events compliment the action and suspense well. Perhaps one reason I liked the Da Vinci Code so much was because I could relate to the main character, Robert Langdon. Not because I am a notable Harvard symbologist (I’m not), but rather it is Langdon’s quest for the truth that I can see in myself. As for the movie, it follows the book closely, with only a few minor changes in the way the plot unfolds. Tom Hanks was good as Robert Langdon, and the other characters blended seamlessly with Dan Brown’s portrayal of them in the book. At two and a half hours, the film is long and drags in places but the length doesn’t detract too much from the overall success of the adaptation. Additionally, a few scenes from the book were “muted” or scaled back in the film, perhaps as a response to the obvious attention The Da Vinci Code has received since its release a few years back. I haven’t become obsessed with The Da Vinci Code and its implications like many have, but I enjoyed it enough to pick up Dan Brown’s earlier book and Robert Langdon’s first appearance, Angels and Demons.
I have yet to come to any conclusions about the nature of the claims in The Da Vinci Code. I simply don’t know enough about the history surrounding early Christianity to have an informed opinion. I am, however, intrigued with the premise of the Holy Grail story and the possibility of a Church cover-up of Jesus’ story. Many Christians are rejecting The Da Vinci Code as pure fantasy and nothing more than a knock against their faith. Few of these critics seem to realize that The Da Vinci Code is in fact a work of fiction and therefore none of it can be taken at face value, despite Dan Brown’s disclaimer that parts of the story are factual. I find it amusing that people get worked up about something like this, going to great lengths to defend Christianity against a single book (just look on Amazon.com for Da Vinci Code spin-offs). The irony of offended Christians not being able to distinguish fact from fiction is delightful.
Posted by Will at 09:54 PM
June 30, 2006
The real test of an anthropology education
Today I bought my first "real" computer game, Sid Meier's Civilization IV. I've heard good things about the franchise, so decided to give it a go to occupy my time for the next month. Civilization IV is a history-based strategy game where you control populations and events with the goal of becoming the most powerful in the world. It's a very involved game that requires quite a bit of time, something that I don't usually have much of during the academic year. I have yet to start a new game as it took about an hour and a half to do the tutorial, and I still need to read the instruction manual. Now we get to see if anything I've learned about human culture and history is useful in the virtual world...
Note the Mayan temple from Tikal on the cover, even though you can't play as the Mayan civilization. The only ancient New World cultures in the game are Inca and Aztec.
May 18, 2006
Take only photographs, leave only footsteps
I ventured out to Lettuce Lake Park where I usually run to try my hand at some nature photography. It was a very nice day out but unfortunately I didn't come across the box turtle or the snake that I encountered a few days ago. Also, the fantastic observation tower was closed for renovation. Lettuce Lake, a Hillsborough County park, is one of the greenest places I've seen and gives the illusion that you're not in Tampa (a feeling I treasure dearly).
My new Canon Powershot A700 is quite the piece of equipment. The photos below were taken at the higest resolution and compression rate but I have resized them for easy blog viewing. I was very impressed at all the settings, most of which I have yet to use. The 6x optical zoom is great as well and the feature I'm probably most excited about (it can get up to 24x with digital zoom). With my 1 gigabyte memory card (extra, of course) I can get almost 9,000 photos at the lowest resolution and about 360 at the highest. And to brag a little more, those yellow flowers are about the size of a quarter.
Posted by Will at 11:55 PM
May 16, 2006
What a busy but fun past few days. It was graduation weekend at UNC-Wilmington and my girlfriend walked the stage into the void…the void of being a working adult with a college degree. In addition to her ceremonies, I was able to drop in on the anthropology department and see most of my professors. It is hard to believe that it has already been one year since I graduated. The past two semesters have flown by at the speed of light and if I’m lucky, the next year and a half will do the same. Being in Wilmington this past weekend made me miss it even more, to the point that I got those pangs in my stomach when I thought about going back to Tampa. The memory of so many good times and so many good friends is too much to bear sometimes, but we can’t stay in college forever (even though I am trying to!). Wilmington really is one of the greatest cities in the country and I would be as happy as I could be living there and settling down.
I head back to Tampa on Wednesday to get ready for five weeks in Honduras. I have quite a bit of planning to do, not to mention the actual packing and purchasing of supplies. I bought a digital camera online today, a Canon Powershot A700, one of their newest models. It’s an awesome 6.0 megapixels with 6x optical zoom. I got a great deal on www.buydig.com, about $70 cheaper than Best Buy and Circuit City. I’m counting on the zoom coming in handy while getting some shots of the wildlife and nature. Should arrive by Wednesday so I’ll try to get some test shots posted from the local park before I leave.
Posted by Will at 01:42 AM
May 05, 2006
I spent part of yesterday and most of today driving around north Tampa looking for a place to live. The lease for the joke of an apartment complex I currently live in is up in August. Right now I am paying $435 per month with a roommate, which is insanely cheap for university area (“you get what you pay for” is blaringly obvious in this case). I’m learning that a good, clean place to live in Tampa by myself will cost at least $600-$700 which is discouraging, but doable considering I was appointed for another 20-hour graduate assistantship in the Fall. Granted, most of my monthly paycheck will go toward rent, but it’s worth it if I can a) live by myself and b) not have to worry about a cracked-out office staff, half of whom I’m older than, trying to pretend to be a legitimate community who cares about their residents. Come to think of it, I could probably move into a Section 8 downtown and it would be more bearable.
Posted by Will at 04:59 PM
April 02, 2006
Prelude to Honduras
The AC in my apartment is out yet again, something you don't want to have to say in the state of Florida. It's not swealtering but just uncomfortable enough to cause me to buy a 12-pack of Modelo to get me through some reading (hint: reading gets easier the more cold beer you drink. Retention is another matter). I've always been a sucker for hot weather but I prefer to experience it when it's supposed to be hot, not in the comfort of my bedroom.
March 26, 2006
My weblog owns 18.75 % of me.
Does your weblog own you?
Posted by Will at 09:02 PM
March 18, 2006
Posted by Will at 11:54 PM
March 13, 2006
ILM > TPA
I'm up in Wilmington, NC on my "spring break" and aside from the debilitating pangs of nostalgia of my undergraduate years at UNCW, I'm having a wonderful time. I don't think I've missed a physical location as much as I do Wilmington. Apart from the people and relationships over the four years I was here, which is enough to make me want to drop everything and become a beach bum once and for all, the smallest details about the town make me miss it. My favorite downtown restaurant, Front Street Brewery, is closing soon but I'll get to eat there one last time before I leave on Wednesday. Here are some shots from the ever-present camera phone. The quality of the shots is irrelevant because not even the most expensive equipment could do this area justice:
A path to my heaven, Wrightsville Beach
The dock behind a friend's house...
...where we did some fishing but caught nothing but seaweed (this is my girlfriend Angela)
Posted by Will at 11:58 AM
February 19, 2006
Won't you be my friend? Please? For the love of God PLEASE BE MY FRIEND!
Anyone who surfs the internet on a regular basis and/or is under the age of say, 35, is aware of the current revolution in online networking. This revolution has its roots with the internet itself but has gained momentum in the past couple of years with the websites MySpace.com and Facebook.com. Both of these sites are geared toward high school- and college-aged kids obsessed with who knows them and who they know. Facebook.com spread through college campuses like a virus (and this time it wasn’t sexually transmitted) and eventually having a Facebook account was the norm among undergrads. I never jumped on the Facebook or Myspace bandwagon for a number of reasons, number one being I just didn’t care.
The premise behind these sites is simple: you create an account, upload a picture and some personal information, and people see your page, become your “friend”, and look to see who your “friends” are. Before long many users have an extensive network of people they go to school with and friends they’ve lost touch with in high school (users’ profiles are searchable by school name, hometown, etc.). I know all of this information because of the number of news stories that have come out over the past two years about the perils of being a part of these communities (read the AP story that prompted this post). As with anything on the internet, popularity brings negative attention and in the case of Facebook and Myspace it is rather pronounced due to the personal nature of the service. Indeed, the entire point of signing up is to disseminate personal information. Critics warn that these sites are dangerous and that personal information shouldn’t be given out, but what they don’t realize is that the entire foundation of social networking services is built, brick by brick, by such information.
I write this post to criticize the criticizers for not fully examining the implications and sociological dynamics of online networking of this breed. These communities are ripe for a scholarly study but not in the traditional framework that has typically structured studies of internet life. Individuality has been expressed online since the beginning but not in such a dramatic way as on Facebook and Myspace. To have a personal website or blog is to invite others to peruse your life in digitized form. You post something and people read it, sometimes interactively. With social networking sites a whole different plane of personal existence is being accessed. Kids expect for people to “accept” or “reject” them as virtual friends and expect this to translate into the real world. It is difficult to translate the virtual world into the physical but when it is attempted, the outcome is often undesirable.
This post was brought to you by a lack of sleep and several cups of coffee.
Posted by Will at 11:48 PM
February 12, 2006
Does this trowel make me look fat?
I was lucky enough to avoid the “freshman 15” four years ago (now shown to be largely myth) but after a semester of graduate school and decreased physical activity since my undergraduate years it’s starting to catch up. For all four of my years at UNC-Wilmington I was on the rowing team, which needless to say kept me active. Starting your day at 5am three or four times a week with vigorous exercise is good for you. Including water training, I typically worked out four to five days a week and felt guilty if I didn’t. It got to the point that I couldn’t envision what it would be like to go to school without constantly having to think about staying in shape. We were only a club sport…I cringe when I think about the training regiment of larger, varsity programs. It turned out that we didn’t compete last spring, my final year on the team, although the drive remained and I continued to train regularly. I’ve never kept track of my weight and still don’t, but the cute little belly I’ve grown since graduating is a reminder that the years are catching up. I used to brag to people that my metabolism was so high that I ate practically anything without gaining a pound; the joys of being a lanky, awkward college kid.
At UNCW I was used to working out several times a week. Now, I’m lucky if I get motivated enough for a two-mile jog or 30-minute Stairmaster workout in my apartment complex’s fitness center. At first I thought I was just getting lazy, but that feeling quickly dissipated when I realized that, hey, I’m in freakin’ graduate school! The next two years of my life should be devoted to reading, writing, and researching. The heaviest thing I should be lifting is a box of pottery sherds in the lab. This is the main reason I’m so anxious to get down to Honduras and back into the field. One of my first friends in Tampa, a portly first-year MA student who has worked in Honduras two summers, said the best diet he’s been on involved amoebas from the water (the pounds just melt away and all you have to do is sit there). I don’t anticipate going that route for getting back in shape but I’ll be the first in line to hack away at the jungle with a machete and schlep buckets of dirt to the screens in 90 degree heat. Just think, how many obese archaeologists do you know?
Posted by Will at 07:58 PM
February 08, 2006
Praise (bordering on obsession) for The Ancient Maya, Sixth Edition
The other day I purchased the sixth edition of The Ancient Maya, a book that can only be described as “The Bible” of the field. The fifth edition came out 12 years ago, which is an eternity in the world of Mesoamerican scholarship. Comprehensive books such as this one can be compared to computers. When you buy it you think you have the latest and greatest only to learn that a few weeks later it’s obsolete. With computers that’s a bad thing. With books, it’s a mixed blessing: on the one hand you can almost see your $25 investment depreciating cent by cent over the years as new and exciting evidence comes to light and old theories are discarded in favor of more informed ones.
The Ancient Maya was first published in 1946, having been written by the great Sylvanus G. Morley. His goal was to bring together the mountains of information and ideas about the Maya that were scattered throughout the discipline. His motivation was something pure and real; something that you can still find in the pages of the latest edition 60 years later. It turned out to be the first comprehensive book on the ancient Maya and is still one of the few good ones out there today.
I first bought the 1994 edition, written by Robert Sharer of U Penn, a few weeks before I was to travel to Belize for my first extensive archaeological experience with a UNC-Wilmington field school. It came recommended by my mentor at the time as the book on all things Maya. Indeed, when I received it in the mail (I got that one from Amazon.com too) and began leafing through it I found that this was going to be a well-traveled book. Despite being almost 1,000 pages and a little over three pounds I hauled it to Belize with me because I knew I would use it. I ended up referring to it quite a bit. From information about the roots of Maya civilization, to their writing and monumental architecture, it soon showed the battle wounds that come along with spending a month in the humid and dirty conditions of a one-month field school. The fact that a handful of my friends wanted to borrow it from time to time didn’t help the book’s appearance. It eventually became a staple in my growing library, every once in a while coming off the shelf to remind me of when agriculture arrived in Mesoamerica or what a certain inscription tells us about Maya religion.
Late last year I received a nice, glossy postcard in the mail from Stanford University Press letting me know that the sixth edition was on its way. SUP was preaching to the choir because I would have found out eventually and didn’t need to be asked to buy it! The first half of the new edition is almost completely revised due to the extraordinary amount of research that Mesoamerica has produced in the 12 intervening years. The preface mentions the effect many of these discoveries had on the text. It was a huge undertaking as suggested by the fact that Sharer’s wife, Loa P. Traxler, is listed as a co-author. Either Sharer got lazy or simply couldn’t keep up with all the working going on. I prefer to believe it was because of the latter. The Ancient Maya was and still is the book to have if you’re a Mesoamerican archaeologist. I have yet to see such a comprehensive and well-written treatment of the Maya or any ancient civilization for that matter. For $25, you can’t go wrong.
Posted by Will at 10:00 PM
February 05, 2006
To defend or not to defend: one big question
As an undergraduate, I majored in Religious Studies as well as Anthropology. I therefore have an obvious interest in the recent story developing all over the world where thousands of Muslims are rioting and causing violence and even more are expressing outrage at the publication of a series of cartoons in a Danish newspaper depicting Muhammad. The most cited one is him wearing a lighted bomb as a turban. Aside from the obvious stereotype, most Muslims are outraged more about the fact that Muhammad was depicted in the first place. Islam is a very iconoclastic religion, fiercely opposing any visual representation of their god, the Prophet Muhammad.
At first I hastily jumped to the conclusion that uproar was the result of a minority of fundamentalist Muslims overreacting to stereotypical and insulting images. Only after some of my undergraduate training resurfaced that I remembered that an image of Muhammad, tasteless or not, is a grave insult to the religion and those who follow it. We see images of Jesus everywhere including churches (which is effectively a manifestation of God) and the popular media often parodies God Himself. This does not happen with Islam and is one reason I am a vigorous proponent of teaching world religious as young as middle school and definitely in high school. That is not to say that I think the sole purpose of this is to avoid offending a handful of religious zealots or promoting political correctness. Understanding a religion other than your own is one of the most useful things you can do as a human being. This is why I chose to become a religious studies major a few years ago. What started out as idle curiosity eventually led to a self-realization that, ironically, hadn’t occurred as I grew up with a Christian worldview.
The violence and anger that is erupting in the Muslim world shouldn’t be surprising to any of us. Most Americans have a gross misunderstanding of Islam, its history, and most importantly its fundamental beliefs. I am not even halfway to a full understanding myself. I agree with Sam Harris that Islam is a religion that teaches hatred, ignorance, and violence. To say that Islam is misunderstood and is a religion of peace is a misunderstanding as well. I certainly don’t agree with the senseless violence occurring over these Danish cartoons but I can begin to understand why so many are outraged. I am still grappling with the implications of this. How can one defend an individual’s right to be angry if the basis of that person’s anger is a worldview that is inherently violent and destructive? Welcome to the real world. They don’t teach you this stuff in Sunday School.
January 26, 2006
Georgia on my mind
I'm taking the weekend off to drive to Savannah to meet up with my girlfriend for a little getaway. We are staying at a couple of bed and breakfast places which are old historic homes. Savannah looks like a neat town and was chosen because it's roughly halfway between Wilmington and Tampa. First night at the Dresser Palmer House and then to the River Street Inn on Saturday night. Click the photos to check out the websites. I'll post some more next week (that we took ourselves).
Posted by Will at 08:30 PM
December 31, 2005
Thoughts on the New Year
A couple of years ago I decided that I would never make New Years resolutions, the reason being that if you make such hefty promises you only set yourself up for failure. Besides, how many people do you know that on New Years Eve has said "Woo, I kept that resolution for an entire year! Im glad that's over!?" I would imagine not too many. Instead, in the final days of 2005 I like to think on the past year and look ahead to what 2006 is going to toss my way.
As a professional student, I usually think in terms of academic years. My year begins sometime in August and runs through mid-May. As a result, it's difficult to think in terms of January-December, although the 2005 issue of my life was quite eventful in itself. I would venture to say that it was the busiest year out of my 23. In the past 12 months I graduated from college and started the whole process over again at a new institution in a new state and city. The move from home to Wilmington was a big deal but the move from Wilmington to Tampa was even bigger. It was a move to a larger city with much more diversity and a far greater amount of opportunity academically. I left behind my best friend and favorite person in pursuit of something that I feel will make us both happy several years from now. Indeed, 2005 was a year of personal sacrifice and rock-solid determination.
Whats in store for 2006? As I wrap up my first academic year at graduate school Ill begin my first professional research project. I'm not content simply listening to my friends reminisce about good times in Honduras, Im ready to experience it for myself. The great thing about archaeology is that the experiences are virtually limitless. Sure, there is a degree of monotony to field work but in my case, I get to do it in a new environment, seeking out new information and applying whatever the hell I think up to it. Thats the fun (and scary) part about pursuing a graduate degree.
Its too hard for me to make resolutions because I am only content with making long-term goals and seeing them though. I am growing emotionally in such a way that I can only live my life on moment at a time, being sure not to miss the fun parts while always keeping an eye on the prize. If my goal is to climb Mt. Everest, it doesnt matter how I do it as long as I get to the summit. The important thing is to appreciate and not forget the people that help me get there.
Posted by Will at 02:50 AM
December 28, 2005
My Animal Personality
Found on The Questionable Authority, my animal personality is:
Not 100% correct, but close enough. Now leave me alone, I want to go read a book...
Posted by Will at 10:06 PM
Not sure if this is old news or not but the teaser trailer for Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is online at Apple. I'll be following this film closely because it's the first big budget action-adventure story set in ancient Mayan civilization, so expect plenty of blog posts about it up until its release next summer. I'll temporarily set aside any academic credibility by completely going ga-ga over a Mel Gibson film about the ancient Maya, but the cinematography and set design are simply going to be too much for me to dismiss. Hell, I'll be the first to admit that I became interested in archaeology because of Indiana Jones (among other romanticized ideals) so drooling over a completely generalized and dramatized portrait of ancient life isn't out of character. As long as I keep one eye toward the thousands of pottery sherds and soil samples I'll be looking at next summer...
December 27, 2005
So what happened to all the Christmas music?
It's over? Just like that? It's only one day after Christmas (technically two at the time of this posting) and Jesus has already left the building. The guns used in the "war on Christmas" have yet to stop smoking and already trees lay dead on the side of the road as if casualties in that war. Brave were these majestic conifers as they stood proud and tall. But just as their needles begin to sprinkle the carpet below we throw them out for we need them no longer. Their shiny glass badges and luminescent trim have been stripped from their chests and boxed away for another 11 months, after which they will adorn another soldier. The nativity scenes are thoughtlessly re-wrapped in the December 26th edition of the local newspaper, almost as if to give Mary and Joseph something to read while they wait for next year. Jesus will be reborn again next year: birthed from the musty cardboard of an old box (corrugated if he's lucky). Until this time next year, may your 2006 be filled with gluttony, greed, and an insatiable appetite for everything that is contrary to what Christmas stands for. I've learned that its easier to give up and just be good for the hell of it.
Posted by Will at 01:04 AM
December 24, 2005
Happy Holidays from Nomadic Thoughts!
"So, my dear holiday heathens, regardless of our successes or failures in our War on Christmas, rest assured. Tomorrow, 85% of Americans will celebrate Christmas, but there will be very little Christ to be found anywhere. No matter how they may respond to polls or how much Fox News they may watch, most Americans don’t give a crap about Christ when push comes to shove. They just want to hold on to tradition, and they want to be right. They’ll talk at length about their faith, but then they’ll center their Christmas celebrations around stuff and a vaguely Scandinavian demigod in a red suit and hat. The star of the show is no longer Jesus. It’s the gold, frankincense and myrrh."
--I AM, the Evangelical Atheist on churches across the country closing their doors on Sunday
The War on Christmas:
Image from one of PZ's Christmas cards at Pharyngula.org
Posted by Will at 03:01 PM
December 21, 2005
Victory in Dover
The few people that do read this blog have probably already heard of the court decision in Dover, PA which says teaching intelligent design in public schools is unconstitutional and violates the separation of church and state. Almost every science-related blog that I read has commented on it so take your pick from the list to the left and read the thoughts of people more informed on the issue than I am. I am, however, compelled to offer my opinion on the matter from the perspective of a graduate student of anthropology.
Needless to say, I am elated by today’s news. It is not only a victory for science but a victory for the United States in general. I’ll focus on the former briefly. The more I read about intelligent design and the more I learn about human origins and anthropological theory, the more I realize how important it is to fight these people. My opinion only a few weeks ago was that the best thing we could do as anthropologists would be to ignore creationists and not give them the time of day. After all, it seemed that by getting the scientific community fired up was playing right into their plan of promoting creationism (a.k.a. intelligent design) as a valid alternative to evolutionary theory. If creationism isn’t really valid, why give it the time of day. Now, the more I contemplate the whole situation the more I realize what danger creationists pose to the future of this country.
I am now starting to think about finding a balance between ignoring creationism and its followers and crushing them by continuing to do good science. Currently, evolution is in no danger of loosing its status as a widely accepted theory (both within and outside of the scientific community). Creationists are a small percentage of the population that are trying to elbow their way into the realm of valid science and they are increasingly resorting to “wedge tactics” that attempt to undermine expected holes or “gaps” in the theory of biological evolution. If creationism is a valid alternative to evolution, such methods would not be needed. This to me is the most frustrating aspect of the whole debate. Anyone who has been following the debate will see that evolution rarely even needs to defend itself, just discredit creationism (which is laughably easy).
I won’t pretend to be an expert in evolutionary biology but I do know what sound science has produced in the past century. The Dover decision is a landmark victory (sorry for that cliché) but the fight is not over. Our job here on out is to defend the evolutionary history of humanity by continuing to swat at creationism like an annoying gnat buzzing in the ear of science. I hate to admit it, but the increasing visibility of Christian fundamentalism in the Untied States, creationism and intelligent design will continue to pose a risk as long as it appeals to peoples’ ignorance.
Posted by Will at 02:03 AM
December 15, 2005
My extended holiday vacation began last week and now I am home in Winston Salem for the rest of the month, prepared for battle in the nonexistent war on Christmas. The weather here is icy, cold, and wet…quite different from the 70+ highs I’m used to in Tampa. The power went out about an hour before I arrived in town so it was a chilly welcome, but after a warm meal at K&W Cafeteria with my parents all was well and the power was back on by the time we got back.
It’s great to be back, although a sick part of me misses the caffeine-fueled nights of researching and writing, stressing out about the structure of each single sentence…for ten pages. My baby, the paper for Chiefdoms, apparently was quite good because it garnered a 19 out of 20 score although I honestly wasn’t 100% happy with it. I suppose the saying is true: you are you own worst critic. I ended up scrapping the entire second half of the rough draft (about state-level water management and ancestry of the ancient Maya) and expanded on domestic use of water. The scrapped section seemed forced; the final version of the paper still had those rough edges that only practice will remedy down the road.
So I’m settled here for the next few weeks. I’m heading back to Florida on the 2nd when I’m going to Ft. Lauderdale on the 3rd with some colleagues to see King Tut (or what’s left of him). It’s quite amusing how the King Tut tour resembles a rock band tour…hitting different cities, sold out shows, and spectacular performances.
Posted by Will at 10:51 PM
November 20, 2005
Which action hero am I?
Apparently I am most like Maximus from Gladiator. I was expecting Indiana Jones for obvious reasons, but Maximus isn't bad either (Gladiator is one of my top 5 favorite movies)...although I'm not as, shall we say, bold as he is. I dig his whole philosophy throughout the movie though.
See below the fold for the graph and how to take the test yourself...
| You scored as Maximus. After his family was murdered by the evil emperor Commodus, the great Roman general Maximus went into hiding to avoid Commodus's assassins. He became a gladiator, hoping to dominate the colosseum in order to one day get the chance of killing Commodus. Maximus is valiant, courageous, and dedicated. He wants nothing more than the chance to avenge his family, but his temper often gets the better of him. |
Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with QuizFarm.com
Posted by Will at 03:01 PM
November 15, 2005
Disney World: The "Train Wreck" of Anthropology
My girlfriend came to Tampa to visit me this weekend and among other things, we ventured over to Orlando for my very first Disney World experience (her fourth). We decided to start at the Epcot park because it had alot of the “nerd stuff” that she thought I would enjoy. Everything was open by 10am and by then roughly two thirds of the United States had descended upon Walt Disney World. Part of Epcot is divided into representations of different countries of the world, including Italy, Canada, Switzerland, England, etc. We ate lunch in Morocco at a really neat restaurant complete with live music and a belly dancer. It was straight out of a James Bond film. The centerpiece of the Mexico section was a laughable Aztec temple which you could go inside where there was, you guessed it, a gift shop selling oversized sombreros (among other things). They did have a floating ride that gave the “history” of Mexico that seemed generally accurate but somewhat dramatized for obvious reasons. My favorite “ride” was called Spaceship Earth, which was essentially a 20-minute train ride through human history as told by animatronics with really bad lip-synching capabilities. It was still pretty amazing and if you squinted your eyes and tilted your head just so you almost felt like you were actually there at various milestones in human history. I shook my head in despair at the “caveman” portion of the ride, where the robotic cave dweller literally said something along the lines of “umm bulla bulla.” At least they didn’t show him beating a dinosaur with a huge bone.
We also visited the MGM Studios park and finally the Magic Kingdom (the one with Tinkerbell’s castle). At the latter park my favorite ride was Pirates of the Caribbean, which had over-the-top animatronics and special effects. Not so much a thrill ride, we simply floated through various pirate scenes. Overall a great experience and worth my 35% Florida resident discount (I would never pay full price to see a robotic caveman chant unintelligible utterances over a fake fire).
I leave you with (sadly) the most memorable spot in Disney World, the Fez House located in Morocco.
Posted by Will at 12:38 AM
November 04, 2005
Taking it on the road
I'm sitting here at Tampa International, surprised they have free wireless internet. Doesn't everything cost something in this country? I'm flying up to D.C. for a cousin's wedding/family reunion. Most of the family I'll be seeing I haven't seen since I was little. I'm looking forward to throwing down with the gang. Of course all of this means that little to no work will get done this weekend. I tried to get ahead this past week with limited success. One of three papers is due in a little under four weeks but the more I think about it, the more I feel that I would write a better paper the week before than this far in advance (they're "only" ten-pagers).
The lady is coming down next Wednesday from North Carolina. More excuses not do be a good graduate student and stay on top of all my work:) I find that staying organized, which is easy and requires little brainpower, is the key. I only brought one book with me: Charles Mann's 1491 about the Pre-Columbian Americas. And yes, for pleasure.
Posted by Will at 08:43 AM
November 01, 2005
North vs. South
Here is a short paper that couldn't be more than two pages, so it's sort of abrupt at the end.
In thinking about personal experiences with concepts in linguistic anthropology, I am reminded of my experience with regionally-defined English dialects, or accents. Most Americans are undoubtedly aware that variations in accents exist in the United States but there seems to be a surprisingly low number of people who have had one-to-one interactions with a member of another accent group. This observation is based on my own experiences. The most drastic and obvious differences in regional dialects are between northeastern states and southeastern states (North and South). More specifically, citizens of the states of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have a unique accent that differs greatly from what is found in my home state of North Carolina. It should be noted that in this paper, I generalize New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts accents as “northern” while those found in the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, parts of the Virginias, and Appalachian region of the US are generalized as “southern.” These are of course more specific variations that can be drilled down within the traditional northern/southern dichotomy that may or may not be apparent to an outsider. I believe, however, that a broad division between northern and southern accents serves my purposes here. Finally, northern and southern accents can be observed in all parts of the country independent of place of origin of the individual.
My personal experience with these regional accents has to do with my travels between and within the southern states and parts of the northern states mentioned above. Born in Houston, Texas, I consider North Carolina my home state because I have lived there for the majority of my life and am thus influenced more by North Carolinian culture and ways of life. I was raised in the semi-metropolitan town of Winston-Salem, home to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and birthplace of NASCAR. North Carolina’s own unique brand of southern culture permeates many aspects of life in Winston-Salem and what is called the Piedmont (the area between the mountains and coast). A short drive in any direction will yield further variation in this culture. Dialectally, North Carolina does have variation within the state. Unfortunately, living most of my life in two parts of the state renders me incapable of distinguishing between these variations in any meaningful way (basically, I know it when I hear it but have trouble describing it).
As with anyone who has lived in one region of the United States for the majority of his or life, I was and still am firmly engrained with the customs and way of speaking that is characteristic of North Carolina. So when I took my first trip north of Pennsylvania back in the summer of 2003 I was able to experience not only a different way of speaking but a completely foreign way of life. I was traveling with my then-girlfriend, who was born and raised in Massachusetts. Our ultimate destination was Mansfield, Massachusetts, a small town that could be considered a suburb of Boston. We were there to see my favorite band perform at the large outdoor venue there. Once we passed Maryland and drove through Pennsylvania I began to notice a difference in the way people talked. This was not a surprise to me as I was familiar with the divisions of accentual variation but it was simply something I noticed. Not only did people in this part of the country speak with a much different accent, they acted differently than what I was accustomed to. It turned out to be my first experience with the strongly-defined division between “northern” and “southern” accents.
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Posted by Will at 02:22 PM
October 26, 2005
A belated Reply to my Guns, Germs and Steel review
Remember when I displayed just a tad bit of interest over the National Geographic/PBS special based on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel that aired earlier this summer? Rick Matthews, who worked behind the scenes on the special, left an enlightening comment on one of my my posts about the program. To recap, I essentially said the producers and Diamond did a good job considering they had to condense such an expansive theory and supporting evidence into a three-hour television program that would appeal to a wide audience while at the same time representing Diamond's theory fairly. By default they fell short on the task because the book covers so much material (and, apparently, worked with a "budget from hell"), but for what they were hired to do I feel that Rick along with the writers, producers, and Diamond made a beautiful film that serves as a great introduction to the book. Anyway, here is a part of Rick's comments:
Jared is nuts - a genius , but nuts . A simple man with a concept that most folk dont understand until you stand and face the reality of what is going on beyond the shimmering TV screen . I read the book , the script and met the man and with a budget from hell we tried to make a film . If I had my way we would have done a Lawrence of Arabia multiplied 1000 times , as the story of colonization , disease , war , treasure and the untold stories of Africa , the far east and the Tintin fantasies of Central America , the moon and so on , can never be told and will never be understood - we all want to but will never be there ie as a voyeur or participant in word and pictures . Cassian , Jared , Sue and myself saw really bad stuff , good stuff and traversed a cultural minefield to make this film .We tried to open peoples eyes - damn hard these days !!
Posted by Will at 05:24 PM
October 24, 2005
This GRE thing is pretty easy...
October 16, 2005
Slashdot is reporting that HP is recalling 135,000 laptop batteries (including those of the Pavilion line) because they can overheat and melt. I would love to take this opportunity to remind everyone that HP makes crappy notebooks and that you shoulnd't buy one. My previous laptop was an HP Pavilion and it ran roughly at the temperature of a freshly baked pizza. I sent my system back three times over the four years I used it, twice for the cooling fan breaking. They couldn't get their design right four years ago and now their batteries are melting in the laps of their users. Either HP is getting Punk'd or they have a troop of primates designing their notebook housing. As you can tell, I'm still ill about my HP experience.
September 16, 2005
The Failure of Creationism: Made for TV Movie
I can't be the first to notice this, but if there is ever a Lifetime Original movie about the dramatic failure of Creationism, the choice for the part of William Dembski is obvious:
Steve Buscemi as William Dembski:
I'm still trying to figure out who would play Paul Myers. Any ideas?
August 12, 2005
Start Shouting: My Atheism Story
My decision to enter graduate school was a decision to dedicate my life's work to the study of humans and their material remains. There are no "changing majors" in a master's program and thus I am bound to anthropology as both a career path and as a life philosophy. The American academy is an institution like no other; it has its own rules and politics and is governed not by a board of directors or a chief executive officer, but by your peers, fellow researchers, and students. But that is not what this post is about. It is about the unending search for reason that I have chosen to undertake.
I've never come out on either of my blogs and said that I'm an atheist. My unbelief usually manifested itself in such ambiguous phrases as "my rejection of religion" and "my dedication to reason." Among my peers, I was always secretly excited when I was able to proclaim my rejection of God or anything supernatural. Indeed it was a coming out of sorts, the kind that excites little children when they're showing off a new toy. My girlfriend accepts me as an atheist, although she jokingly believes my wedding is going to be in a cave, with bats. My sister, three years my senior and a believer herself, also accepts the fact that I find truth in a different book than her. I don't worry too much about the opinion of anyone else except my parents. I'm sure that they have a good idea because of those ambiguous phrases mentioned above that I used quite liberally in a blog I had to write for a philosophy course. Perhaps I was so "careful" with them because I had an unfounded fear that I would disappoint them. Part of that fear will always remain with me. They did, after all, invest so much love and attention during my formative years in the context of Christianity.
As a boy scout I took an oath to do my duty to God (although the scouts never taught me what that duty entailed other than blind acceptance). I went though confirmation at church but at that age I was still under the impression that God's work was arts and crafts and maybe a cheery song or two. I didn't know it then, but I was a zombie in training. I was being told fairytales and nightmares that were supposed to somehow make me a good person. Looking back, my church experience was nothing more than teaching me that I wouldn't get my dessert if I didn't clean my plate. All through high school I went intellectually unfulfilled. It's not that the courses weren't challenging enough, it's that I just didn't care. I received good grades, but I got them because I had to, not because I wanted to. College would change all that.
In the fall of 2001 I was a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. On September 12 of that same semester, I was a freshman who no longer believed in the God that I had grown up with for eighteen years. As I was sitting in my dorm room watching the World Trade Centers aflame, I remember thinking to myself that the world is going to be different from now on. I didn't know exactly how or to what degree, but it was going to be different. I went through that Tuesday like any other, unaware of the future implications of these terrorist attacks. One of my fondest memories of my first semester in college was walking through the center of campus, alone, on the night of September 11th. I had to be alone but I didn't know why. It's not that I get stressed out easily. I cried for a few minutes thinking of the thousands of people that had vanished from the earth in a matter of minutes. For the first time in my life, death was real and the fragility of life took on a new meaning. Around the time I entered college I was already starting to think about my personal religious beliefs. Sometime on or shortly after September 11th I remember saying to myself "even if God does exist, I do not want a personal relationship with a being that would allow something like this to happen." There was nothing that could possibly change that.
By the next year I had declared Anthropology as my major but I had no idea that my newly-realized unbelief may have played a role in that decision. I was now on a quest for truth in reason, the kind that could be found in dirt and DNA. But I did not emerge from my transformation completely ridded of the shackles of religion. I would soon declare Philosophy and Religion as a minor and eventually a second major. Although traditional religion and spirituality do nothing for me on a personal level, I still find them fascinating and worthy of inquiry. I am still amused by the possibility that people may think I'm religious just because I have a religion degree. One of my favorite books is Karen Armstrong's A History of God. One of my most enlightening college courses was Old Testament Literature. It didn't take long to realize that my fascination with religion was a quest to try and understand how so many people can be so obviously wrong about the world. I am not saying that I have all the answers, or any answers at all, but I do know a fairytale when I read one. If I do end up being wrong about the whole thing and I find myself engulfed in the flames of Hell, I will still manage to smile because I know I lead a fulfilling life without fear of my ultimate demise.
You may be wondering why I decided to write this entry in this blog (as opposed to my personal blog). Inspiration came from a number of sources. I will preface these remarks with the observation that it takes courage to "come out" as an atheist in the United States. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to anyone who doesn't believe in something. Often times this is simply the result a general apprehension of deviating from the social norm and a fear of being rejected by society. Indeed, to be an atheist is by its very definition, among other things, a DESIRE to be rejected by the religious mainstream on ideological grounds. That being said, I overcame my childish fear of rejection by realizing that science provided a much firmer philosophical ground on which to stand than did religion. Secondly, Sam Harris' The End of Reason gave me more confidence in my five year old conclusion that there is no God and that a belief in one is dangerous. I decided to author this post itself by one of my favorite authors, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who posted on another blog that in order to prevent religion from destroying us we must "start shouting, to encourage the others." On the same blog, Sam Harris had this to say:
The only thing that permits human beings to collaborate with one another in a truly open-ended way is their willingness to have their beliefs modified by new facts. Only openness to evidence and argument will secure a common world for us. Nothing guarantees that reasonable people will agree about everything, of course, but the unreasonable are certain to be divided by their dogmas. It is time we recognized that this spirit of mutual inquiry, which is the foundation of all real science, is the very antithesis of religious faith.
Posted by Will at 12:09 AM
August 11, 2005
"Why Tolerate the Hate?"
From The New York Times comes an op/ed piece about the perils of multiculturalism and finding a balance between tolerance and rejection of violence. Irshad Manji writes:
As Westerners bow down before multiculturalism, we anesthetize ourselves into believing that anything goes. We see our readiness to accommodate as a strength - even a form of cultural superiority (though few will admit that). Radical Muslims, on the other hand, see our inclusive instincts as a form of corruption that makes us soft and rudderless. They believe the weak deserve to be vanquished.
Paradoxically, then, the more we accommodate to placate, the more their contempt for our "weakness" grows. And ultimate paradox may be that in order to defend our diversity, we'll need to be less tolerant. Or, at the very least, more vigilant. And this vigilance demands more than new antiterror laws. It requires asking: What guiding values can most of us live with? Given the panoply of ideologies and faiths out there, what filter will distill almost everybody's right to free expression?
The paradox described by Manji is one that Americans refuse to struggle with. As with many other issues in American politics that have very important social implications, too many people see it as a black or white issue: either we let the terrorists kill us all or we kill all of them first at any cost. Many conservatives advocate closed borders and racial profiling while at the same time reveling in the United States' status as the epitome of cultural and political greatness where all non-Americans should want to come to live. This is a paradox in itself and one that deserves a deeper examination of its own. Other extremes, such as multiculturalism or more specifically, a strict adherence to tolerance, is just as dangerous because it disallows for the condemnation of violence that is religious of culturally based, as terrorism is both. As Manji explains, we need to find a balance between the two that allows for individuality:
Which brings me to my vote for a value that could guide Western societies: individuality. When we celebrate individuality, we let people choose who they are, be they members of a religion, free spirits, or something else entirely. I realize that for many Europeans, "individuality" might sound too much like the American ideal of individualism. It doesn't have to. Individualism - "I'm out for myself" - differs from individuality - "I'm myself, and my society benefits from my uniqueness."
This view does lean toward the tolerance model but it does so with an eye towards self-awareness and enough wiggle room to condemn terrorism and other violence that is born from a clash of cultures. I believe that a "war on terror" cannot be won by conventional weapons alone. Instead, we have to wage a war on ignorance and lack of reason.
Posted by Will at 03:31 PM
August 06, 2005
Nomadic Thoughts: Reloaded
I just ordered my new notebook computer from Dell.com today. It's tax-free weekend in North Carolina so I saved $96.04 on the order. I got an Inspirion 6000 with a pretty sweet setup. Some of the basics:
-Intel Pentium M Processor 730
-80 gig hard drive
-15.4'' widescreen display
-CD Burner/DVD combo drive
-Windows XP Professional
-Additional 9-cell LI battery
I'm mostly excited about the 80 gig hard drive to hold all my legally purchased and copied music files plus the burner to reproduce said files. I'm also psyched about the backup battery that I opted for which has more life than the primary. I already have a wireless setup but going internal will be easier for campus and other places. I didn't have a need for the DVD combo drive but it was included. The widescreen display will be neat too for working on the internet and with other files.
Posted by Will at 05:53 PM
August 05, 2005
Guatemala's Popularity on the Rise
There's a great story in the LA Times (via Newsday) about the reemergence of Guatemala after decades of violence and civil war. Along with its booming tourism industry, Guatemala has Francis Ford Coppola's new resort on Lake Petén Itzá. I also learned from the story that CBS is planning to film the next season of "Survivor" in the country. It's easy to see why Guatemala is experiencing an incredible growth in tourism: it's simply one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I've only been to four countries other than the United States but when I was in Guatemala for a few days last summer I was awestruck by the beauty of the culture and its people. It seemed so full of life and energy despite its history of violence and bloodshed; a stark contrast from attitudes in the United States. While part of me felt sympathy for the poverty that plagues Guatemala I had infinite respect for the character of the people. I was only there for four days but I got a strong sense of the pride and quiet dignity they possessed. Most of them knew violence all too well but they were somehow above that, at least on the surface.
Posted by Will at 12:23 PM
July 28, 2005
Random Security Checks versus Racial Profiling
In the wake of 9/11 (still) and the most recent terrorist attacks in London there has been quite a bit of discussion online and off about the increased vigilance at airports across the United States. While security has been extremely tight since 9/11, the London attacks have caused New York City subway security to initiate “random searches” of both bags and people. Needless to say, millions of Americans, not just in New York, have been bitching and moaning not about the use of searches but about the fact that they are random. Many people feel that it is wrong to search old ladies and mothers with children because they are supposedly far less likely to commit an act of terrorism than a person with Middle Eastern descent. These critics would wholeheartedly support racial profiling based solely on the fact that the few terrorist attacks on American soil that have occurred were carried out by individuals with such ancestry. Criticisms such as these are ludicrous and completely miss the point of the nature of terrorism and its causes.
I would like to think that the American public, or at least those with an opinion, are intelligent enough to make distinctions between race, religion, and actions but they are not. My issue with critics of random searches (or any form of racial profiling for that matter) is that they are convinced that people’s actions can be predicted based on how they look. I’ll avoid discussing my beliefs about race because we would be here for hours, but suffice it to say that I become visibly agitated when a person or group of people cite race as a meaningful criterion for any decision or basis for opinion-forming. What critics of random searching often forget (or don’t realize altogether) is that race, religion, and action have no causal connection. In other words, a person is not a Muslim because he or she has a rusty complexion with dark hair and eyes. Taken to the extreme, a person is not even a Muslim because he or she is born in a certain geographical location. A person is Muslim because that person is influenced by other people’s preconceived ideas of the world and the way it works. For these reasons, it makes no logical sense to single out in a security check an individual who appears to be of Middle Eastern descent.
My experience has been that a Muslim extremist is more likely to commit an act of terrorism than a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Still, it would be wrong to single out individuals simply because they are Muslim (or not). While this would not be racial profiling, it would be profiling of another sort and just as logically impossible (not to mention a huge waste of time). So, if it makes no sense employ racial or other forms of profiling, what are we left with? You got it, random security checks. Would it be possible for a Muslim extremist to slip through the random checks? Is it possible for a pregnant Caucasian woman from suburban Ohio to strap a bomb to her body and blow up a subway station in the name of Islam? The answer to both of these questions is yes and it is why, effectiveness aside, random security checks are the only logical measure that can be taken to catch would-be terrorists.
Bradford Plumer has this post on MoJo Blog which mentions that racial profiling could potentially create more problems that would outweigh any perceived benefit:
Even if a particular Arab never rode the mass transit, he would realize that if he wanted to do so, he would very likely be searched, and that thought in itself could lead to real resentment. Moreover, it's hard to expect police officers to remain courteous and non-racist if they are explicitly instructed to use race as a factor in their surveillance. It's also very hard to argue that telling commuters to be aware of young Arab or South Asian men could possibly avoid exacerbating racial tensions in general. Another more practical problem is that the police could miss out on other terrorist threats that aren't so swarthy.
Plumer's post also links to this article in which James Forman Jr. argues that even conservatives should oppose racial profiling:
Most conservatives who support racial profiling are not racist; they simply consider the practice an essential ingredient of effective law enforcement. But it isn't. Indeed, the great irony of conservative support for racial profiling is that conservative principles themselves explain why racial profiling actually makes law enforcement less effective.
Posted by Will at 04:43 PM
July 27, 2005
"Over There" Television Series
I haven't written about non-science television on Nomadic Thoughts yet and don't plan to on a regular basis, but I caught the premiere of the new FX series "Over There" tonight. The promos made it look gritty (the only kind of drama I really like) and I found tonight's episode just that. Set in Iraq, it's very similar to the film Traffic, both visually and dialogically in that it has the feel of a documentary rather than a drama (no ambient music, shaky camera, etc.). I obviously can't give a qualified opinion as to its level of authenticity but from what I can tell the show has rather realistic combat scenes and interaction between the soldiers. One to check out, but like all programs I like from the beginning it will probably be cancelled after a few seasons.
Posted by Will at 11:25 PM
July 26, 2005
A Momentary Art of Living: The Documentary
This past Spring semester (my last at UNC-Wilmington) I took a Philosophy course called "The Art of Living." It was an upper level, rather free form discussion-based course looking at various arts of living. We read things like Epictetus (one of my favorites), Thoreau's Walden, and even some Dr. Phil (not to imply that he's in the same league as the other two). One of the assignments for the course was to maintain our own "Art of Living" blog (mine is still up here).
Anyway, one of the guys in the class, a film student, made a short documentary film consisting mostly of interviews with students plus some footage of class discussion. He did a great job editing and adding a soundtrack and it turned out really well.
It is currently up only on Google Video so in order to view it, you have to download the Google video player (a small file that seems to integrate well with IE). The link to the video is here. And just in case you were wondering, I'm this guy in the video:
Posted by Will at 05:45 PM
July 18, 2005
Life's Little Pleasures: Mailbox Flags
Today I had two pieces of mail that I needed to send off today. Since I am staying in the upstairs bedroom of my buddy’s house for the remainder of the summer, I was pleased to realize that because he lives in a house, he has a real mailbox. As I walked down the driveway toward the mailbox, a man was walking by on a late morning stroll down the tree-lined street on which my buddy lives. We greeted each other with a brief "hello" and a nod of the head as I reached for the mailbox. I placed my letters inside, closed the door, and slowly raised the little red plastic flag that alerts the mailman of the documents inside awaiting post. At that moment, I realized that I hadn't raised a mailbox flag as long as I can remember....ever.
When we lived in Texas, I wasn't old enough to mail anything. Our next two houses in Winston-Salem had flagless mailboxes, the kind with the top flap and decorative metal emblem or image on the side that doesn't really mean anything but gives it an aura of pseudo-prestige. For two years I lived on the campus of UNC-Wilmington and was reduced to a combination of numbers to a small box of a few square inches. One among hundreds. For the past two years at my apartment, I was upgraded to a small box with an actual key. Still, if I wanted to mail something I only had a community box which, of course, had no red flag: the chances of having outgoing pieces must be statistically greater if a few hundred patrons are concentrated to one or two boxes in which to place their mail. That or the postal service simply got tired of hundreds of really tiny red flags on each individual box.
My life's little pleasures can come in any form, like a seemingly insignificant yet completely necessary red plastic flag. That's what pleases me. Where as most people get pleasure out of money and attaining material things, I get pleasure out of observing things that nobody else has given any thought to. In other words, the flag itself does not please me (that would be too creepy) but rather the fact that they are almost always overlooked because they aren't normally thought of as having any meaning outside of their obvious function.
Check out Sam's Mailbox Picture Collection. Apparently I'm not the only freak who finds mailboxes interesting.
Posted by Will at 12:43 PM
June 30, 2005
Kind of hard to see because of the glare and the size, but we finally got my diploma from UNC-Wilmington under glass. Well worth the thousands of dollars if I do say so myself...
Posted by Will at 07:01 PM
June 23, 2005
My Visited Country Map
Thought this "visited country map" might motivate me to travel as much as possible and blog about it along the way. So far, my map is pretty bare: United States, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and the Bahamas. Makes me realize how much of the world I really have to see (98% more to be precise). I'll put this in my "about" page as well. I've enabled HTML in the comments so go make your own and post it!
Posted by Will at 09:53 PM
June 05, 2005
Contact from Belize
One of my anthropology friends from UNCW instant messaged me last night to mention (i.e. rub in) that he was having a blast in Belize at the field school this year. They're not staying at the Outpost Lodge this time, but rather in the adjacent village either in available houses or with a family.
The sights and (lack of) sounds of Indian Church Village are things that will never leave me. In many ways, they have become a part of my whole life experience and a reference point to any fieldwork that I will surely do in the future. I can almost see myself twenty years from now at a dig site relating to my fellow archaeologists (students, hopefully!) how I was so struck by the beauty and variety of the rain forest for the first time. That beauty seems indestructible. On more than one occasion when I was alone around Lamanai I imagined that it was the 19th century (yes, I still have the occasional intrepid explorer fantasy) and I was experiencing the environment the same way as those before me had. It was moments like those when I would imagine a world where the rain forest was indeed beyond the reach of modernization.
The hand of man has brought not only destruction to such environments over the millennia but methods of preservation that will make experiences similar to my own possible further down the trail. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing or able to see the beauty and diversity in nature, especially in Central America. I hold the belief that if victims of the rampart close-mindedness, hypocrisy, and otherwise shitty state of American culture were to travel for one week through any of the millions of acres of jungle to our south, we would inevitably see change in the way we think as a nation.
For many travelers, such a profound experience leaves one with the conclusion that the destination is not only a place, but a state of mind. For me, Belize and Guatemala are still physical places that I will hopefully one day return to, but they have become so much more since the whole experience has sunk in. I escape to them through my photos and saved e-mails and hope that in the future, they will still be physical places and not just a memory.