Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving...

Here's to everyone out there and to hoping you are all able to enjoy a happy thanksgiving! Cheers!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Finite Element Analysis - Force and Stress on Artifacts

I came across this free 2-D FEA package - ForcePAD that is being distributed by Lund University. It allows you to examine the effect of force and constraints on shapes in various configurations. From the website:

ForcePAD is an intuitive tool for visualising the behavior of structures subjected to loading and boundary conditions. The design of the user interface aims to be as intuitive as a standard image processing software. Users should be able to design structures, apply loads and define boundary conditions without knowledge of the underlying finite element model. ForcePAD is also designed to give an intuitive image of stresses and deformations in the material.

Some of the documentation (i.e., screenshots) are in Swedish and the instructions are fairly barebone. But one can quickly do studies of a variety of shapes and configurations such as this "fishhook" that I sketched up in about 2 minutes. Cool stuff.

Evolution and Bananas (of all sorts)

This past week, the much hyped distribution of 50,000 copies of the Origin of Species handout at university campuses finally took place. This was an effort that was funded by the Creation Science Institute (man, everyone gets an institute) and choreographed by the towering intellects known as Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. Kirk, of course, was the boy-idiot star of the painfully horrific television show "Growing Pains." His new role as Creationist spokesperson perhaps is explicable as some damage done as a child actor. The other member of the duo is the nutball New Zealand minister and evangalist Ray Comfort. Ray is infamous for his rather hilarious argument that the shape of the banana -- since it fits so nicely in a human hand and has such convenient peeling properties is "proof" of a Creator who could have only had us in mind when he conjured up the fruit out of the nothingness. You can see all the hilarious glory here. Of course, the modern banana's shape and characteristics are embarassingly the result of human breeding programs of a once wild and pod-like banana. The Creator is Us! Gack. Nannanananana... Leader!

Anyways, I saw a number of copies of the book laying around campus this past week. It is a cheapass printing with a 50 page intro by Ray Comfort. Its a funny waste of money, actually, given the difficulty getting students to actually read anything more than a single page of text. Few, if any, will likely delve into the book and it likely end up in recycling bins and garbage like those books that the Hare Krishna's hand out. Or maybe they will end up in required reading list of our ANTH 120: Intro to Cultural Anthropology, or the ANTH 501 graduate seminar.

While neither Ray nor Kirk came to CSULB to personally deliver the books, you can view a telling display of befundery by the boy-idiot Cameron while he was at UCLA to spread his nutty word.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Laboratory Safety

I take laboratory safety quite seriously. With chemicals like HF and HCl being used in a low light environment that borders on no light, you really can't be too careful. So I ask all my students to watch this video:

And you should too.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Rats! (and German Ecologists)

Today's USA Today covers a new paper that is just being published in the Journal of Archaeological Science by ecologists Andreas Mieth and Hans-Rudolph Bork from the Institute for Ecosystem Research in Kiel, Germany. This paper "Humans, climate or introduced rats – which is to blame for the woodland destruction on prehistoric Rapa Nui (Easter Island)?" challenges Terry Hunt and my argument that (1) Easter Island was colonized in AD 1200 and (2) that rats played a role in transforming the ecology of the island.

Their argument sets up our previous work as a "straw man." They claim that we argued that rats *only* caused these trees to go extinct. This is, of course, absurd - trees were primarily destroyed by burning, not rats. Rats, however, must have had some impact on the environment simply because (1) they were there, having been introduced when people arrived (2) rat populations must have been large, based on the lack of natural predators and the plethora of food provided by the Jubaea chilensis palm (i.e., nuts). All we are saying is that this aspect needs to be considered when putting together the overall explanation.  

The real point of contention is what prevented regeneration of the forest, not what cut it down. The fact that there was no forest regeneration is fairly clear from archaeological evidence (made by a variety of folks). While we see prehistoric sedimentation, we don't see palm root molds other than those made in the pre-human occupation surfaces. Mieth and Bork, following the standard "catastrophe" story believe that the lack of regeneration is due to erosion and ecological collapse. I would argue that rats would have made it difficult, if not impossible for the trees to regrow - and that humans would have had little incentive to regrow these slow growing trees (Jubea palm live up to 500 years) especially since any new trees would harbor more rats. Much of the differences in these stances has to do with what one assumes the productivity of the wooded environment was like -- they assume that the productivity was high (because it was forested). I think the evidence speaks otherwise.

I've been working hard on this part of the story for the book - it forms the focus of a chapter we call "Resilience." Where this covers the conditions that prehistoric populations faced when they arrived on the island, the materials/technology/plants/animals they had with them, and the details of the history resulting from this combination. It's coming together...

Below is what I do not think is the case. It just didn't happen. More on this later...

200911141339.jpg+200911141340.jpg+200911141342.jpg=200911141344.jpg ?

Some strong words about "Leadership"

Blogger "Dr. Crazy" over at Reassigned Time has posted some strong and insightful words about what it means to be a leader in an academic setting. Dr. Crazy is an assistant professor at a midwest university who speaks rather bluntly, though anonymously, about his experience in the academy. In this entry, DC comments on the lack of leadership among administrators - and could easily be speaking about CSULB.

If faculty governance and faculty contribution to a university community is going to work properly, it won't just do so by magic. Because here's the thing: groups of people can only come together to work effectively if they have structure, guidance, and information. There needs to be a person who takes responsibility for creating structure, for guiding decision-making processes, and for disseminating information in a way that is responsible, transparent, and coherent.

In other words, we need administrators. Faculty can't do their jobs unless they have effective administrators to create an environment in which that can happen. Left to their own devices, to piece together information by happenstance and to have discussions and to make decisions without a clear structure, clear goals, and clear guidelines, faculty will most of the time fail. That's right. I said that. Faculty can't just run the university by committee.

Now, faculty members are smart folks. They can do a lot of things well. They can achieve a great deal for a university - above and beyond their individual teaching and research - with strong leadership. With charismatic and strong leadership, they may even be able to achieve this great deal and feel proud of it and like what they're achieving.

But also, faculty members are smart folks. They know when they're being given the run-around. They know when the rhetoric doesn't match the substance. They know when the hundreds of hours they've put into something to make it great have meant nothing, and when that something is being gutted. And once they know these things, they are going to stop being so interested in cheer-leading, in taking one for the team, in doing their jobs well. This is not because faculty members are selfish or scattered or lacking in commitment. It's because they are smart folks, and they know that to be smart means not investing one's time in something that has clearly become totally fucked. They know that being smart means not letting themselves get fucked.

Strong leadership means:
  • Knowing how to run a meeting. If you're sitting at the head of a table, and if you're putting yourself in a position of authority over a group, you also hold responsibility for keeping the group on track. You hold responsibility for focusing the discussion, and for explaining why the discussion is being focused in the way that you choose. You hold responsibility for stopping people from talking over one another, and you hold responsibility for managing the personalities and interests around the table in order to keep the conversation civil and productive. (This is not unlike managing a classroom well, incidentally.) If a meeting is going on for 2 hours and there's no end in sight and people start leaving before it's over? You don't know how to run a meeting.
  • Answering questions honestly, even when the honest answer may not be to everyone's liking. Spin is not strong leadership, particularly when you're expecting a group of people to do the motherfucking dirty work for you.
  • Taking ownership over your role in a particular process. If the travesty that is driving the process is your idea, at the very least you can admit that it was all your idea and explain why. Speaking in the passive voice "it was decided..." "people have agreed..." "it is the case that..." is disingenuous at best. Dude, if you're behind the steering wheel, admit it. Be responsible for it. Take the punches that you fucking deserve for it. You can't keep your hands clean and be a strong leader.
  • Understanding that you don't get to decide things in a vacuum only to force faculty to come together under false pretenses to ratify your decisions.
  • Asking for input before decisions are made, not after. (I suppose that's the same thing as the last bullet, only stated differently.)
  • Realizing that getting people to buy into a process isn't a matter of making decrees or coercing people through scare-tactics (ahem, did we learn NOTHING from the Bush presidency?), but rather about persuading them that their investment in the process actually means something and that it will have tangible, and hopefully positive, results.
  • Making friends with people who have big mouths and getting them to use their big mouths to support you rather than to fight you. And if you try to persuade them and they aren't buying it? Maybe you need to listen to their objections and really take them to heart. And maybe even try to address them directly, rather than just responding with fucking sound bites.
  • Inspiring trust in those whom one expects to do the heavy lifting.
You know why tenure matters? Above and beyond academic freedom in scholarship and in the classroom? It matters because when we don't have strong administrative leadership, and I suspect this happens at all institutions in a variety of contexts at one time or another, somebody needs to be able to speak up, loudly and clearly, on behalf of students, on behalf of faculty, and on behalf of the future of the institution. Tenure has made little difference to me in terms of my scholarship or my teaching. I have never felt in jeopardy in those areas, and I think my institution values my autonomy in those areas. Where tenure has meant the most to me is that I don't have to hold back at all when it comes to fighting bullshit that will hurt my university, my colleagues, or my students. Now, my loud and contentious voice may not make any difference. But at the very least I do have the power to say my piece without fear of losing my job. And since I'm being put in a position where I'm being expected to "participate in" (read: authorize) things that entirely contravene our mission and our values, then I need that power and I need to use it.

But you know what I want? I want a leader. I want a person who will make it unnecessary for me to feel enraged and to go into battle mode. This is not to say that I want a leader who agrees with me in all things or who serves my interests above all others. No, that wouldn't be a good, strong leader. I want a leadership that has a vision, that articulates it clearly, and that doesn't try to pass things through under the radar. I want to be able to be a team player, even if I don't entirely agree, because I trust the ones leading me. I want to feel secure in my leadership's intentions, and I want to be reassured that I don't need to raise hell if I disagree with something because even if I express an objection quietly and civilly that it will be taken into account. I want to be confident in my leadership, knowing that it is making decisions with students, the faculty, and the institution as its first and most important priority. I want leadership that does not betray me, that does not use my hard work to advance a policy or program change only, in the implementation phase of that change after it has been approved, to strip that change of any value or meaning. I don't want to feel as if my leadership is taking advantage of my initiative, abilities, charisma, and intelligence. I want to feel as if my leadership values those qualities in me, respects them, and uses them to initiate positive change.

Look, I believe in compromise. I believe that it's impossible to make all people happy all of the time, and I believe that it's not my leadership's job to make me happy. But I also believe that if you expect people to serve, if you request their service, that you should value that service when it is given. And you should honor the spirit of the final product that those people produce.

I've had two experiences with leadership this week. One of those experiences was exemplary, in terms of demonstrating exactly the qualities that a strong leader has. The other, not so much. Tragically, the lack of leadership that I experienced this week is going to affect every single student at my university, and just about every single colleague of mine within my college.

I am angry, I am demoralized, and I am in no way going to shut the fuck up about the latter of the two experiences. Maybe my angry outcry will make no difference. Probably it won't. But I want it made very clear that I do not endorse what is happening, especially since when everybody was busy trying to get the thing support in the first place, I was the motherfucking spokesmodel.

Lesson learned. [From Leadership]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

CSULB MA Graduate Program in Archaeology - Admissions for Fall 2010

Although the Department of Anthropology is not going out of its way to advertise this, we are officially accepting applications for students who want to get an MA in Anthropology and focus in Archaeology. Yes, you heard it right: we are looking for students and are excited to accept a new group of MA students for Fall 2010.

We are particularly looking for students who are fairly committed to taking a science-based approach to the archaeological record. While there is lots to learn (and brain reorganization required), the result provides students with strong analytic and critical tools necessary to be competitive in archaeology and other related disciplines.

At CSULB, it our goal to provide archaeology students with:

  • strong theoretical training;
  • access and hands-on training on state of the art instrumentation;
  • field work opportunities;
  • exposure to an innovative and highly interdisciplinary environment that combines theory and the use of analytical techniques to solve problems central to the understanding of the physical, life and social sciences;
  • internships and graduate assistantships;
  • funds for student research projects;
  • One-on-one mentorship for graduate work and post-MA careers.

Campus and department applications can be found here: Be certain to email me ( or Hector Neff ( if you are interested in the program or are planning to apply. We would be happy to provide you more information and to answer any questions you might have.