Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TEDX Bermuda

In October, I gave a TEDX Bermuda talk on my research. The video is now online. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzV6_7PVMaI 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mata'a: "Weapons of Mass Destruction?"

Often in lectures, I bring up the point that some researchers have argued that the stemmed obsidian tools of Rapa Nui (see one below) were used as so-called "lethal weapons.”  This notion is part of the “Collapse” story that Diamond has made popular.  The argument goes that since these obsidian (sharp!) tools are found laying around the island (lots!) they must the leftovers from scenes of great battles in prehistory (the horror!).  In my classes, I often jokingly say that these researchers treat these treat these stone tools as the smoking gun.. the “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”  The thing is… these kinds of claims are actually being made.  And worse, they are being made by people who study ACTUAL WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. You know... the kinds that kill people, not the “rocks on a stick” kind.  Check out this paper from two reseachers (Rasmussen and Hafez) at the Naval Post Graduate School, Defense Threat Reduction Agency. No, really… Check it out. 

“Terrorist Innovations in Weapons of Mass of Effect: Preconditions, Causes, and Predictive Indicators.” 


If the Defense Department is confusing rocks on sticks with weapons of mass destruction, we are in big trouble. 

Figure 1: Rock on stick sans stick.

20070718 DSC 1578 876970531 o

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


While there are those that continue to assert that cultural variation is driven by the embedded homunculus in each of us, the more we know about the way in which change occurs, the more we see ourselves as part of the natural world, and thus explicable in the same terms. This realization doesn’t imply that we only change only in a genetic fashion but that cultural change can be accounted for as an additional aspect of the an overarching general framework.  One way we can see that is in our creativity. The homunculus believers hold that creativity comes from some inner genius who magically instantiates ideas out of the ether. More careful study of the process reveals a cultural inheritance basis in which patterns observed in one area are applied to a new one.  Isaac Asimov seems to have recognized this in his essay 55 years ago:


“Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.”

“Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a ‘new idea,’ but as a mere ‘corollary of an old idea.’”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quote of the Day

Atholl Anderson (1987: Introduction to Archaeometry: Further Australasian Studies, Ambrose et al. (eds), University of Australia)

"If there is a single obstacle to our progress it is that, in an absence of a stabilizing core of theory, archaeologists have adopted the supertramp strategy (Diamond 1977) rapidly colonizing each newly attractive methodological patch spawning a breed of cryptic offspring and moving on."

Friday, September 12, 2014


Given that it is the beginning of the semester and I am teaching World Prehistory, a relatively speaking “introductory” class on archaeology, I spend some time talking about science, how science works and why scientific understandings of the world have the properties that they do. I generally want students to understand how to distinguish between pseudo-scientific statements (and much of what passes for archaeology) from scientific explanations of the archaeological record.  Richard Feynman, of course, has said all of this previously and with a much snappier suit. 

Here’s his lecture on the topic of science:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EYPapE-3FRw Feynman

Monday, July 14, 2014

ArduBoat: modifying a low-cost RC boat for aquatic auto-piloted missions

In our fieldwork on Rapa Nui, we have been interested in locating points where freshwater seeps out of the groundwater table into the ocean as these areas appear to be significant features of the prehistoric landscape.  There are a variety of ways in which we have done this work — thermal mapping, conductivity measures, temperature profiling and so on.  Recently, we used a kayak to measure changes in conductivity and temperature along the shore (dragging a level logger). It occurred to me, of course, that robots might make a more systematic survey than what we can do in a kayak in that they could run in consistent transects along the coast in parallel lines. We could then run the transects over and over at different tidal heights and match the survey with thermal quadcopter runs.  Naturally: Robots Do It Better (tm).  In this way we can get spatially consistent measurements that are be well suited for locating discrete spatial features associated with freshwater. We use aerial drones for mapping - why not a water based floating version?

So this thought train has led me to test out the practicality of a simple robot boat that I can test out on Catalina.  Of course, there lots of folks who have made versions of RoboBoats (or Arduboat https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogQsaIHyJnk) - this is not a new idea.  For me (lacking shipping building skills) much of the challenge appears to be simply making a boat that is suitably shaped with the various props and so forth. 


While at Harbor Freight, I came across a radio controlled boat that seemed like it might be ideal for modifying into a robot boat. http://www.harborfreight.com/radio-controlled-speedboat-95641.html  This reasonably inexpensive ($50) RC boat runs on two electric motors that are controlled with a simple speed controller/RC interface. What is potentially ideal about this boat is that it is steered by two props — no need to have a rudder. This configuration is similar to the “tank” configurion in the ArduRover where steering is accomplished by two wheels (http://rover.ardupilot.com/wiki/setup/) In addition, for this boat the sizes of the motors appeared similar to brushless motors I’ve worked with on multicopters.  With some changes to the motors, the addition of a speed controller (ESC) and the APM autopilot, it seemed like a relatively simple conversion.  


As I wanted to make the boat use the same basic configuration as an ArduRover, I purchased two brushless inrunner motors that are the same diameter and length as the original ones (http://www.hobbyking.com/hobbyking/store/uh_viewItem.asp?idProduct=42448). I addition to size/configuration, I picked these motors out of a large number of possibilities basically on price alone. I am entirely unsure what configuration I would want for a boat motor but these motors were cheap enough to use as a start.  I used two 30  amp ESCs I had laying around from a multicopter (http://www.hobbyking.com/hobbyking/store/__2164__TURNIGY_Plush_30amp_Speed_Controller.html) I am certain there is probably a better ESC configuration for a boat (one that does reverse?), but this is what I had available. Finally, used a 4 channel RC controller ($24) http://www.hobbyking.com/hobbyking/store/__8338__Hobby_King_2_4Ghz_4Ch_Tx_Rx_V2_Mode_2_.html  and, of course, a 2.6 APM Ardupilot (https://store.3drobotics.com/products/apm-2-6-kit-1). Using a LiPo battery with an XT-60 connector and the APM power module (https://store.3drobotics.com/products/apm-power-module-with-xt60-connectors). 

Following the instructions here (http://rover.ardupilot.com/wiki/setup/) but corrected to suit my Mode 1 receiver (I should probably use a Mode 2 but since Im not planning on manually driving the boat, it shouldn’t matter), connected the in this way:

RC receiver          —>  APM Autopilot Input

Channel 3   ->            3

Channel 4  ->             1

Channel 5  ->            7

Channel 6  ->             8


On the output side, I connected the ArduPilot output in this way:

ArduPilot Ouput      ->  ESC

1     -> ESC on port side

3     ->  ESC on starboard side. 

Here is what I have so far:

Photo 2

 What is still missing is the telemetry link to allow the boat to update the ground station with position information (Ill use the 3DR radio set: https://store.3drobotics.com/products/3dr-radio) and the GPS (https://store.3drobotics.com/products/3dr-gps-ublox-with-compass). While I have the GPS, I need a new cable that is longer so I can attach it onto the bow of the boat.  In essence, both of those are basically plug and play. The radio is powered via the APM and the DF13 connector. 

Physically, the motors fit right into the existing motor mounts.  The shaft of the new motors has a slightly great diameter than the original ones so I had to drill out the coupling part (which is plastic) so that it would fit. 

On the APM side (using Mission Planner) you need to configure the APM to use “Skid Steer” — a vehicle with dual throttle steering (like a tank). This is done by altering the APM parameters (see: http://rover.ardupilot.com/wiki/apmrover-loading-the-code-and-setup/)

Skid Steer Functions:

  • Skid Steer IN enabled (set to 1) sets up the APM to control a Skid Steer vehicle with a dual throttle skid steer transmitter.
  • Skid Steer Out enabled (set to 1) sets up the APM to control a Skid Steer vehicle with a conventional single throttle RC transmitter.


SKID_STEER_IN: DISABLED Set this to 1 for skid steering input rovers (tank track style in RC controller). When enabled, servo1 is used for the left track control, servo3 is used for right track control
SKID_STEER_OUT: ENABLED Set this to 1 for skid steering controlled rovers (tank track style). When enabled, servo1 is used for the left track control, servo3 is used for right track control

 I’ve done some basic tests and it seems to work as least in principle. I’ll need to get the GPS cable before I can do an real tests with the mission planning. Also, Im not sure how long the battery will last or how to tune the motors to get appropriate RPMs (right now the motors spins like a multicopter — and would rocket across the lake). But so far so good!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Archaeology Blogging (and Publishing)

The bloggers for the 2014 “Archaeology Blogging Carnival” were asked a final question about the “future of archaeology blogging” (or something like that). As I’m currently stuck on a plane to Austin, I thought I’d summarize some of the thoughts that I have on the topic and use this post as an opportunity to explore more general aspects about publishing.

First, I think blogging has the potential to facilitate academic discourse leading to some a degree of scholarly “activism" within the discipline. While traditional journals serve as broadcast mechanisms, we have few ways of carrying on cross-university conversations outside cramped poster sessions or random encounters at the bar in the yearly meetings. We need social network and the generation of media to create grassroots effort to make a number of changes.  PLOSOne is one venue that creates a platform for some limited feedback through its inline comment feature but archaeology is not the journal’s primary focus.  While blogs are still broadcast oriented, they encourage feedback in the comments that can contribute to debate and idea exchange.  

It is clear to me from the recent SAAs that we need more debate our our discipline. While polemic is tiresome and often pointless, we need everyone to continue to challenge each other in a positive way to improve the work that we do. If our goal is to do archaeology as a science then we need to think deeply and carefully about how we construct our observations to produce explanations. It is easy to get complacent or to slip into common sense thinking given the implicit nature of our own common sense. We need to call each other out on sloppy thinking, poor use of reasoning, and botched analytic applications. This criticism need not be Flannery-esque (and other like him) name calling though I suppose some of that goes with the territory. But as a discipline we are much richer and and productive when we are explicit in our thinking about what we do and when we tease apart the often implicit relations between our ideas and the empirical world.

Such clarity has been increasingly difficult to find in our discipline. I find that some of the “Processual Plus” mindset of the past 15 years has led a large part of the discipline to simply accept everything that everyone does as satisfactory: it's all under the big tent. But “inclusive” archaeology need not be “sloppy” archaeology nor does it necessary have to include simply any random idea that people cook up. Discussion provides a process by which ideas can be shaped and honed. Blogs, I believe, could be a significant part of that process.   

Most blogs, I think, are going to have visibility largely within academia while a few will reach a more public audience: so much of what we actually do as an archaeologist is obscure and tedious for the lay person. But that is fine. It is the day-to-day work that has the most to gain from the informal and interactive form of communication that constitutes blogging.  

And when we speak to each other, we all have the potential to affect larger change. As a way of an example, I would like to focus a bit on publishing in archaeology. Aspects of blogging overlap quite a bit with publishing (or should) as both are means of sharing information that we generate (one in a formal episodic way, the other in an informal continuous fashion.) I believe that we are long overdue for a change in the way we (as academics) consider places to publish and choose the journals for which we do reviews. This need comes from recent changes that have taken place in publishing as well as in academia. In terms of the publishing, the industry as a whole is struggling to find a way of doing business. Much of their existing models and practices depend upon dead-tree media and the capital machinery required to produce physical copies of articles. Publishers used to print books and journals and these required physical infrastructure and major investment. As academics, we did our share of the work: we generate the ideas, produce the writing, review the work of others.  Both sides of the publishing world were enriched. The publishing world used to ‘work' on the basis of mutually beneficial activities. 

A couple of things have changed with regards to this scenario. First, commercial publishers have grown fewer in number and the surviving journals have been consolidated into multi-national mega corporations.  These companies pay their CEOs and shareholders millions of dollars by charging individuals libraries skyrocket high rates.  For the few companies that control 95% of the academic journal, publishing is an exceedingly lucrative business. The CEO of Wiley and Sons, Stephen Smith, makes over $5MM a year (http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/people/person.asp?personId=23627960&ticker=JW%2FA) Erik Angstrom, CEO of Elsevier took home $7.5MM (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/mar/12/reed-elsevier-chief-engstrom-pay) These companies are generating record profits on the backs of publicly funded research , subscriptions taken from public funded libraries, the labor of academics who are working for low pay while handing over copyrights, and by prohibiting sharing of ideas that were paid for by taxpayers. They oppose self-publishing and open access — anything that might eat into their massive profits. And this is true of AAAS’s Science and Macmillan’s Nature, the two most prominent science journals in the world (http://synapse.ucsf.edu/articles/2014/04/03/scientific-publishing-era-open-access). 

Second, the nature of the academy has dramatically changed. No longer do universities value the service faculty do for their disciplines.  The modern university is measuring bottom line one way or the other: impact factors, numbers of students graduated, numbers of classes taught per faculty, dollars raised and so on.  Worse, the numbers of faculty who are working outside of the tenure-track system continue to grow. These adjunct/affiliated academics ONLY make money on the basis of their teaching: they largely do research in their spare time with the hope of landing a job.  Non tenure track faculty now make up a staggering 76% of ALL faculty regardless of institution type (http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/files/AAUP-InstrStaff2011-April2014.pdf). These faculty simply have no incentive to participate in the process of reviews (much less publication). Even those that do have a tenure track job are being made to teach more so that ‘student throughput’ can be maximized as administrations become increasingly corporatized. While some of the gray-beard faculty still enjoy a relatively burden free teaching existence, the reality is that an ever-smaller proportion of faculty have any reason to participate in the publishing process except for the submission of written articles, a metric used for promotion. 

There are a number of actions that should become call to arms for archaeologists in terms of publishing (and blogging):

  1. We should publish open access whenever possible. The public paid for our research time. Every tax payer should be able to enjoy the products of this work. 
  2. We should publish in non-profit journal exclusively:  American Antiquity is run solely for the benefit of archaeologists through the Society for American Archaeology.  Antiquity is run by a non-profit (the new editor, Chris Scarre assures me that a new website will vastly improve the online nature of this journal). . Current Anthropology is funded through Wenner-Gren. These (and other) journals are not out to carve profits out of the public and the labor of poorly paid academics: they are there to benefit us through the distribution of the work we do to our colleagues and the rest of the world.
  3. We should cease donating our time reviewing articles for mega-profit commercial journals until they properly compensate us for our professional time. We shouldn’t be donating our (publicly funded) time for corporate earnings. If we do, that time should be paid - or at least some equal type of compensation be made such as student scholarship funds, open access or other kinds of community benefits. PeerJ, for examples, offers an open-access model which costs just the basic costs of the work required to get the work published — not giant million-dollar bonuses for CEOs.
  4. We should publicly archive all of our work and our data. ArXiv.org is an excellent place to archive pre-prints as is SSRN.com.  Our data should also be archived in publicly accessible repositories. With the explosion of cloud storage such archives are easily obtained at low cost even for relatively massive archaeological data sets (We should also refuse to play the “security through obscurity” game and make information about the record known so that everyone can participate in its preservation. The argument about secrets making good protection is not well supported by evidence.)
  5. Returning to the issue of blogging, we should blog as part of our regular communication between each other and with the public. We should preference and value all efforts that produce an impact regardless of venue and the “status” of the outlet.  A million-view blog with suitably professional content should have as much value (if not higher) than a published “comment” in a journal. Our mission should be about the generation and communication of knowledge about the past and we should reward anyone who achieves those goals in as many media as there are available. 

I suspect that some of these changes will happen regardless of what we do - they will just take longer. Pressure for open access publications already exists (e.g., the NIH mandate, the mandate by the UCs to have all faculty archive all publications).  Journals are in crisis mode since they cannot easily get reviewers. We are increasing our electronic presence each year (SAA even had a hashtag for the first time #SAA2014). Consequently, these comments may simply be one view into the future. The sooner we full grasp this new reality, however, the easier the transition will be.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

QGIS Tutorial Links

With the release of QGIS 2.0 (and greater), this open source project has become a serious contender for a full-blown GIS solution that covers nearly all of the necessary features found in ArcGIS but at a reasonable price (free!). I’ve started to use QGIS in all of my projects and am very pleased by its features and performance. Like all complex software, there is a learning curve but if one knows ArcGIS already most of it is fairly self-explanatory. I’ve started to assemble some tutorials that I can point students towards. Here’s the list I have to date:
I will add more to this list as I come across useful resources for learning QGIS.