blivet 2000/03/04

[NPR] NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon, had a feature about touring New Orleans with boogie-woogie piano player Doctor John ‘the Night Tripper’. I’m listening to John Burnett interview Mac Rebenack (who is Dr. John) as I write this. They just played a selection from Gilded Splinters. Man, that is such great stuff. The annual meeting for The Society for American Archaeology will be in New Orleans in 2001. The first time I was in New Orleans was the last time the SAA had a meeting there, in 1996 I think. I can smell New Orleans as I’m listening to the Gris-Gris Man. I’ll be there next year, I’m looking forward to it.

[Archae:AmericaQuest!] From March 6 to March 31, 2000 a team of students, experts, and adventurers will explore the mysteries of the American Southwest. Day 1 is here. This looks like a pretty neat web implementation for teaching Archaeology, designed for use in the classroom and by engaged parents at home. I don’t personally know the people involved here or have any financial or professional involvement with AmericaQuest. But, I can say that I see what they’re doing and endorse it without hesitation.

[Archae: blivet commentary] The future of Archaeology (and Science, really) depends on our selling the ‘adventure’ in a realistic manner as Archaeologists, Scientists, Educators, parents, and concerned citizens. By realistic I don’t mean taking away the excitement and real sense of adventure, I mean getting away from cinematic images of bullwhips, fedoras, and treasure and towards the very real adventure the past offers. Its too easy to see the disappointment in peoples faces after the initial excitement of being involved with an excavation or other project when the packs are heavy, or conditions are uncomfortable. Its easy to forget that real effort is involved in the stirring adventures we see pictures in National Geographic or an Indiana Jones movie. Rivulets of sweat running through grime and scraped knuckles are great images until they’re your knuckles.

When you see the reaction when someone finds something, when they pluck a rose colored chert dart point base from the screen and asks “Now I know this is cool! What is it?” There is a distance that floats across their eyes when you reply, “Thats an Archaic point. Those date from 1,800 to 5,000 years ago.” The distance increases as they mentally do the calendar math. ‘Click, click, so that would be, mmm, 200 A.D. to … 3,000 B.C.!’ I always envision that mental leap like one of those helicopter assisted reverse zooms in a movie, from a close-up of the point base in their hand with the POV suddenly swooping away upwards to thousands of feet above. We look like ants in the landscape, the city is gone, the Mesquite groves are back, a small campfire burns nearby. The people are busy with the tasks of everyday living. Their hair may not be like ours, their faces may look different, but their eyes … their eyes are ours. Across the gulf of time we’ve made the connection and it came through a little piece of stone formed into a tool long ago. And from someone who knew what that small tool represents. I could be wrong, that may not be what is happening in other people’s minds, Its just the way it looks in mine. We all have a different mental landscape, or so I’m told, I’ve never been anyone else. But I think its pretty darn close. I believe we have far more in common than we realize, at a certain level we’re not separate at all.

Advocacy is so much more than dry lectures in some auditorium, though that is the habitat we frequent. As scientists we often want to be left alone by ‘the public’, we often want to be left alone by our co-workers and colleagues so we can be in the world of our research. But we occasionally have to reach out and share the sense of wonder we have with our research. Everyone doing science has had to struggle to do what we do. Years of schooling, the advice of well-meaning family and friends to do something that you can at least get a job in. I remember my mother saying “I don’t think I would have encouraged you so much when you were young if I knew you were actually going to try to do this”. We have to sell the fact that everyone can be a part of science. Most probably won’t want to do it as a career, doing science is often a solitary activity with lots of time spent doing analysis.

There is no sizzle to be sold in analysis. Writing little numbers on rocks? Come on. We do it because we’ve all thought we didn’t need to, then comes the chilling realization that the bag with the number is lost or illegible. All of the context linking that artifact to all the other artifacts sloughs away and suddenly it becomes only vaguely interesting. It has lost its connection to the larger world. So we write little numbers on rocks. I used to joke, “It is the way of my people”. But what we recover cannot lose its context because then it loses the analytical value. That is the tragedy we have such a hard time conveying to people. We’re not interested in the compelling artifact because of something intrinsic in the artifact itself. When people collect artifacts (arrowhead collectors) they’re trying to maintain the connection to that sense of awe and wonder they felt when they found it. But when they pick them up and take them home they become curios without context, without that connection to the larger world of a past filled with people who have a story to tell. America’s archaeological heritage is being stolen daily so some people can make mosaics of arrowheads on their walls. I think in my lifetime we will see the time when archaeology will be gone and it will never come back. You can reintroduce species of animals and plants, but you can’t get the small band to come back and camp right here again. They’ve been dead for 3,000 years.

I’ve commented on this and other archaeological issues before, but I’ll try to continue in the following weeks.

blivet 2000/03/03

[Archae: Burnt Rock Mound] The week of test excavations is done. The weather for the last two days has been superb. We got in seven 1 x 1 m test pits, that varied from 30 to 70 cm in depth. An astonishing amnount of Late Archaic material was recovered, most of it from lower levels. I’m eager to see that the geomorphologists have to say about the depositional history of this mound because one of the big questions is if the geological chronology matches up with the cultural one. In other words, if there was a strong cycle of aeolian capture and deposition between 1800 to 1500 years ago which would separate the Archaic from the Ceramic componnent, then we have a stronger case to argue for this stratigraphic patterning we observed. If not, well, we’ll have to re-examanine how we interpert the site, which will be interesting too.

I’d forgotten how tiring field work can be, because I’m bushed. Of course I was first in the field in 1976 so my personal chronology might have something to do with it … Nah!

My God, has it really been 24 years?!?

blivet 2000/03/02

For Steven, who asked
There is a lot of misunderstanding about Zen, especially in the West. The tendency seems to be to make Zen soothing and comfortable, a kind of fashonable decorator scheme for personal philosophy. Sadly, most people don’t have any idea about what Zen is and is not. Zen is perhaps the most brutal of all spiritual regimens which makes it hard to ‘sell.’ It’s goal is nothing less than to strip away all of our comfortable rationalizations we have about our selves and our lives which people have to be hungry for and really aren’t unless they’re desperate. Of course it will also strip all of the uncomfortable delusions we may have about inadequacy, inferiority, and inherent stupidity which does appeal to many. Someone once said that “religion should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. With Zen, the comfortable and the afflicted are within the same person.

Long ago, in our extreme youth, far earlier than we can recall, we constructed a shell between our selves and the rest of the world. Kind of a command interpreter between our software and this strange hardware of the world. (OK, its a stretch but imagine it as something impenetrable between two things that can not communicate.) There are fatal flaws in the implementation, and yes, it does work, sort of, but there is so much to be gained by moving to an advanced system. Sadly, this advanced system won’t work until the person is older and few people realize its there. Its kind of like having a Microsoft Bob shell on top of a perfect implementation of Linux. You’d have no idea what could be done because you’ve always dealt with an idiot. The sad thing is that the idiot thought he was in charge and took all the messages, hogged all the processor cycles and crashed without warning or reason. Your Ego is like Microsoft Bob. It’s not your friend and it will do anything necessary to keep you from finding out that there is a completely different system lurking behind the scenes.

That is more than enough for the computer analogy. It was tenuous at best. Perhaps it was illustrative.

“Zen is a cauldron of boiling oil over a roaring fire.” Who in their right mind wants to go on a journey that will expose all their hypocrisy and self-serving idiocy to themselves? Someone else once said, “start where you are”. For many, that is with an aesthetic of calm, simplicity, and peace. Thats the destination. First you must look within through right meditation and follow the seven other parts of the Eight-Fold Path. So if you want to light candles, sit on cushions, wear black, and say little phrases about the peace of a flower in the hushed tones of a National Public Radio classical music announcer, go ahead. Just don’t delude yourself that you’re doing Zen. Any more than wearing black and telling yourself you’re ‘tortured’ makes you an artist. It’s the function that you’re after, not the form, and here, form does not follow function. You can pretend you’re calm but watch how quickly it evaporates under stress and you end up snapping at people, harboring grudges, and just continue being deluded that somehow you’re justified because of the circumstances of your situation and life. Thats not Zen, just the window trappings. Passing through the gates is extremely uncomfortable and many feel like they’re becoming psychotic. Which perhaps makes Zen as its practiced in the West indelibly Western, because we really don’t like to do things that are hard, uncomfortable, disturbing, take a long time and will change your life.

I think what is truly filled with cosmic irony is that the simple little phrases about Zen are completely true. It is just paying attention and being in the moment, but there is so much difference between saying it and doing it. Adepts are in the moment because they are doing nothing other than what they are doing at the time. Nothing else, no background chit-chat in the mind, no ‘oh wait a minute, did I do such and such or call so and so?’ Just the moment, which is connected to every other moment in an eternal string of ‘Now.’

[SETI@home] The Macintosh version 2.0.3 of the client for the collaborative effort in the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence is out. When I went to the SETI site this morning at work I could only find the 2.0.2 versions listed (Mac and Windows), but you can download it directly through Version Tracker. I apologize for not knowing how to find the latest versions of Windows applications & shareware/freeware, so if there is a VT equivalent for Windows you might check there. So far I’ve done 181 units and donated 4348 hours of computer time on multiple machines to the search.


The three day weekend is shaping up to be fairly uneventful for us. Thats OK, as there is a lot of thesis grinding to do.

There was some more rain last night here in the desert. It always smells so wonderful while its coming down and afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t rain like you might get in … Ohio or Washington or someplace where mothers don’t grab their young children and rush them outside to witness the miracle. “See? Water comes from the sky! Just like Grandma says happens at her house.” The reaction to rain here in Las Vegas is much like the reaction to snow in the midwest. At first people are thrilled “Rain! Look outside, it’s RAINING!”. But its just the idea of rain. They get in their SUVs and cars and completely forget that the laws of Physics (pavement + rain = slick) still apply. The rain loses most of its mystique after about the first half hour and people start to complain as though anything but smog-drenched ‘climate’ is a personal inconvience. The weather-droids on local TV are of no help either, announcing the likliehood of rain as though it certainly will contain toxic waste. Whatever is happening is not what you want. Shouldn’t you be in a casino gambling, or at the very least buying something? So I go outside to be with my friend who just got into town, Mr. (Ms? I never thought about it) Rain.

Rain in the desert is wonderful. The smell of wet desert – the mix of wet rock, cresote, and soil is exhilarating. You can almost feel the cells in your nasal passages swell and give a little “pop” as they get to draw moisture from the air for once. Then as everything dries, you can see the colors of the rocks and mountains in the distance. They’ve been newly washed and replenished. On a perfect day the last of the Sun breaks through the purple and black clouds to spotlight Red Rock Canyon. From my point of view (unlearned in the ways of photography) it looks like something Galen Rowell would take a picture of. Then in an instant, the Sun goes behind the coulds again and the overwhelming beauty winks out. Wow, thanks for that!

I’ve noticed that once you’ve been in the desert long enough, rain becomes an event to celebrate, like the farmers dancing in the drought-breaking torrent in The Rainmaker. Life is good.

slashdot is featuring a review of Full Moon from Knopf. The book is actually a collection of 129 of the best photographs taken of the Moon out of the 32,000+ taken over the several decades and 11 manned lunar landings. There is also an original essay from Andrew Chaikin. I’ve spent a lot of time in my brick and mortar bookstore of choice, looking at this wonderful, wonderful book, though I haven’t bought it yet.

Speaking of space travel, STS-99 has been given the go ahead to do even more mapping. NASA, CNN, Reuters, and the latest images from the mission. They’re mapping the planet in Alaska-sized chunks. This is great!

MacFixIt Special Report: Troubleshooting AppleTalk And Cable Modems. We’ve been bit by this HARD here at the blivet haciendia and thus far our ISP has not been helpful.

Another bit seen at slashdot: David Brin (scientist and bestselling novelist) has a piece on Giordano Bruno, one of the greatest geniuses of the later Renaissance and a spectacularly interesting fellow. Bruno has been the subject of the last couple of days worth of Earth & Sky programs on the local NPR affilliate. In the slashdot dixcussion was this link to another Bruno essay.


X-Files OK. I’m not sure anything was answered. Samantha was taken, Fox re-connected with her, and is ‘free’ now. I’m not sure I am ready to let go of that yet. I really admire Chris Carter’s ability to weave this tale, and Millennium’s as well, though that ended hastily and without proper attention IMNSHO. This is one of the few series I’ve been with from episode one. (I didn’t warm to ST:TNG until the third season, or B5 until the second) I’m just not sure I have that much to say. I’ve been told I’ll never know until I give writing a serious try. One thing at a time, I feel too scattered, too discombobulated. Perhaps it would be centering. I should start keeping a journal again. IMNSHO means ‘In My Not So Humble Opinion’, ST:TNG is Star Trek: The Next Generation, and B5 is Babylon 5.

I spent most of the day with two dharma brothers and Ming Zhen discussing a Tai Chi video project, then went to Las Vegas Chinatown for New Year’s festivities. We’re still basking in the post-rain glow. The air is sooooo clean. Its wonderful! The Lion Dance was so cool this afternoon

Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schultz dies at 77. Reuters, CNN sigh!

‘Fly Cast’ Keeps Shuttle Radar Mast Stable. A tricky inertia maneuver gains altitude for the Shuttle with the 20-story radar boom deployed.

MacNN notes that the Apple PPCLinux site seems to be unavailable, as are links to their MKLinux site. I will not give in to dark speculation, I will not give in to dark speculation, I will not give in …


I missed mentioning the latest Risks Digest, number 20.77, came out on Saturday.

Nomad the robot is finally driving solo – in the Antarctic outback. from yahoo daily news.

It must seem like not much is happening in blivet land, but there is frantic activity behind the scenes at the Las Vegas nerve center. The Super Bowl came and went unwatched. A group of archaes got together Saturday night and after lengthy spirited discussion, solved nothing. However, many opinions and potential solutions to problems real and perceived were presented and a good time was had by all. Remember, fondue represents an unrealized ideal. Several essays are in the hopper, but none are ready to go hopping yet. Oh yeah, there is that thesis thing too.


We lost two days of blivet in the server crash. Oh well, its not like there was any thing that important here, just self-indulgent ramblings.

This is strange – The Intercollegiate Studies Institute of Wilmington, Delaware, a conservative “think tank”, has named Coming of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead’s 1928 treatise, as the “worst nonfiction book of the past 100 years”. Beatrice and Sidney Webb’s Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? (1935) and Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and 47 other books make their ‘list’. I hear the sound of axes being ground in the name of ideology. The CNN story is here. Think Tank my ass! You have a political agenda, you’re not a think tank. Not to be confused with Dave’s computer program ThinkTank.

If my maternal grandfather (Lovell Martin Boyle) was still alive, he would have turned 100 today. Imagine having a lunar eclipse to mark your 100th birthday. 🙂

He was born in Oklahoma and raised in northeast Kansas. He farmed for much of his life and watched a lot of changes I take for granted like indoor plumbing, electricity, cars, radio, and television happen. Together, we watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the Moon on July 21, 1969.

He started farming with a team of Belgian draft horses, followed by steam engines, kerosene tractors, and gasoline tractors. He and Grandma raised their kids through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.

Once, I remember him squinting at my mother after she had complained about not having much while she was growing up and then very firmly and quietly saying, “You had two dresses, they were always clean, and you never went to bed hungry.” I can still see in my mind’s eye how ashen her face got when he said that.

She told me later that he had once put cardboard inside his work boots to cover up the holes in the soles through the fall and winter, so she could have a brand new dress to start the fifth grade. She said it was the first new, not a hand me down, dress she remembers having.

I’ve never been that poor. I have to say, I hope I never have to go through times like that. I wish no one ever has to.
One wish: If I could sit one more time with he and grandma in the motel chairs under the Elm trees in their back yard late in the summer, and drink iced tea from a Mason jar while I listen to them talk and watch the fireflies dance in the south pasture.

It was cloudy here last night, I didn’t get to see his lunar eclipse. Rats!

[archivist’s note 8/13/2006: my son bears this man’s name]


College has roared into session. It seems very unnatural knowing my diploma will have the date “2000” on it. I feel like I should have a data jack just below my right ear or something. Where’s my hovercar? We were supposed to have hovercars in the year 2000! We were supposed to have colonies on the Moon and Mars too, for that matter. The futures just not what it was all cracked up to be. Where does that phrase “all cracked up to be” come from? I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean though it gets used often.

Karl is in town for the Scuba Con. We getting together Thursday night, it will be the first time we’ve seen each other since 1977. Coool.

Work proceeds on the Las Vegas Springs Preserve Master Plan. It is truly strange to be involved a project that has a roll-out in 2005 and think that there isn’t much time to get things done. So much science to do, so little time.


Personal Archaeology

Late Friday I accepted a temporary position with the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. I’ll be working with some people I genuinely respect. Coooool

For some reason I’m having a great deal of trouble connecting to this site and several others associated with Userland, but not Scripting News. I don’t know if the problem lies here on my machine or out there. I’m having lots of other problems here so this page may not be updated regularly for a bit.


I don’t know what is is about Las Vegas traffic. Every time I return home relatively unscathed I’m reminded of the story (probably an urban legend) that Paul Erlich got his inspiration for The Population Bomb (1968) after being a taxi without air-conditioning stuck in a noontime Calcutta traffic jam in July. For those of you who don’t remember, the book was a dystopian view of an overpopulated world with diminishing resources and imminent disaster. Sort of like ‘Neuromancer’ without the plot or style. Las Vegas traffic elicits those sorts of images of the social fabric on the brink of some sort of Malthusian-induced collapse. People gesturing, yelling, shooting each other. Wait, that has already happened – some time ago in fact. OK, maybe congested traffic is not the harbinger of the decline of civilization. Thats already happened too. Driving in Las Vegas is just a pain. With all the people in town to witness The End of the World as We Know It© and get their drinks comped it just aggravates a bad situation. We need to finish those much delayed infrastructure improvements to I-15 and US-95, and build the Beltway. It would be nice to have a County Commission that planned as though people lived here, raised families here, and did something besides go to casinos instead of lining their pockets with developer dollars. did I say that last part out loud?

Early this morning George Harrison was stabbed at his home. Apparently he was not injured seriously. “From what we know, George was stabbed in the chest several times and [Harrison’s wife] Olivia was hit over the head,” said Police spokesman Geoff Baker. Will people please stop this nonsense! Please?

We put Mom on the plane back to her home about 6PM yesterday. I’ll have more on this ongoing rumination later, it needs some zafu* time.

There is some interesting stuff out there I missed yesterday, being away from the computer. Like that is a bad thing or something. slashdot has an interesting discussion on Geeks, Geek Issues and Voting “For Americans: it’s high time we thought about who we want to run the country for the next 4 years. What kind of laws we would want passed…or repealed. Who would be the ideal “Geek Ticket” and why?” Wired has a story about the Ig Nobel committee’s list of the 20 most spectacular failures of the last century.

*p.s. a zafu is a firm, round cushion associated with sitting meditation (zazen).