February 28, 2008

Can you hear me now?

I got an email forward through my school account with the subject line: Aid to Victims of Violence and Cell Phones. Sure, it's a nice program that recycles old cell phones to donate to victims of violence who need an emergency phone. But I snickered a little thinking that there might be a special colored ribbon out there for victims of cell phones. That makes me a bad person, right?

February 27, 2008

Buh

So in the last week or so, my desktop computer got all wonky, necessitating my finishing the CRAC paper on the lappy. Yesterday, I got an email saying Cortland had rejected my small grant proposal to buy vernier calipers that aren't a) plastic and b) in the imperial system so that I can teach my students to, you know, measure bones to figure out sex and stature. Today, the lappy was misbehaving when I connected it to the projector at school - although a reboot fixed it. We went to dinner and then to one of the local art-house theatres to see Persepolis around 7. As we got there, we heard a fire alarm. And people started streaming from the theatre. Three firetrucks pulled up. After 5 minutes of standing in the -14-with-windchill weather and no indication of what was going on, we headed home. Fired up the lappy, turned on American Idol and... screen goes black in windows. Patrick thinks it might be a problem with the backlight in windows. Reboot into ubuntu. Same thing. *sigh* After a week, I have no reliably working computer, I have to teach with shitty equipment, and I didn't even get to see a movie that surely would have put my crappy day/week in perspective. At least I had a tasty meal at Moosewood.

February 20, 2008

Gettin' My Geek On

This is what I've been working on nearly non-stop for the past week: a pre-circulated paper for the Critical Roman Archaeology Conference being held at Stanford March 1-2. I'm at that phase in academia where I've managed to convince large organizations to give me thousands of dollars to do research into a fairly obscure area of anthropology, and now I have to give something back. What I've managed to scare up are some ideas that date back a decade in sociology but don't seem to have been applied well in archaeology, and definitely haven't been tackled in ancient Rome. In a nutshell, tens of thousands of immigrants came to Rome every year during the Imperial period (1st-3rd century AD), but we have basically no record of them in textual evidence. How do we find them? Well, we could keep going with circumstantial evidence from tombstones, or we could start testing bones to see if we can find individuals with isotopic signatures different from Rome. More than that, though, I'm interested in how migrants experienced Rome. Again, without texts, we have to rely on the bones: Did the migrants maintain their traditional foodways or methods of farming/manufacturing? Did immigrants live in heterogeneous communities of foreigners away from the "real" Romans, did they integrate fluidly, did they live in homogeneous ethnic areas? I do believe that these kinds of questions (and more!) can be answered, and I think that Rome is a fantastic place to start a bioarchaeological approach to the concept of transnational migration (and migrants' ethnicity, identity, and agency), seeing as how it was the largest preindustrial center in Europe until about 17th century London. Anyway. Read my paper to see how big a geek I am. Or just take my word for it.

February 19, 2008

Frankos voskrese

In part two of the series, My Great-Uncle Is a Ghost, we now have a plan for putting Frank to eternal rest. My mom called me this weekend to say that she met someone who can help us. While filling in for another nurse for a few hours, my mom met Dr. Roger Pile, a self-proclaimed "ghost psychologist" who lives in Charlottesville. Dr. Pile told my mom that, normally, ghosts who haunt are of people who died tragically or violently, but sometimes, he said, very stubborn people just won't go to the other side. His advice? All it takes to exorcise a ghost is apparently to confront it, talk to it, and tell it to "walk towards the light." Just repeat "Go towards the light" over and over, and eventually the ghost will get so annoyed with you that it will go away. Or something.

So the plan is to head to my grandma's place in New Jersey for (as we like to call it in my family) "American" Easter at the end of March. Then, bust in on the poor couple whom Uncle Frank is haunting and see if we can convince him to make like a moth. This is going to be awesome. Anyone up for accompanying me on this road trip? :)

*Footnote explaining the title of the post: I was telling Laura this story, including the bit about how we're going to try to raise Frank over Easter, and said, "Too bad it's not over Russian Easter. Then I could say, 'Frankos voskrese!'" See, because on Easter in the Orthodox tradition, we say in Russian "Christ has risen" or "Christos voskrese." Get it? I guess unless you were Russian Orthodox and had an undead great uncle, it's not very funny after all.

February 15, 2008

Si, puo fare!

I haven't heard much from my politically-interested friends in Italy lately about the debacle that is their government (yeah, yeah, like we can talk). In the shower this morning, I was listening to a report from NPR about the upcoming April elections in Italy. Berlusconi is, of course, confident that he will win handily because Berlusconi is, well, a megalomaniac. But he's going to get a run for his money from Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome, and a well-respected politician. It was hilarious, though, to hear Veltroni shout, "Yes, we can! Si, puo fare! Yes, we can!" He unashamedly has ripped off Barack Obama's call to arms - he translates it into Italian but also just shouts it in English. I laughed out loud when I heard this. It shouldn't surprise me, considering the unbelieveable popularity of dubbing movies and of coolifying tshirts with English (real or maccheronico).

When I first got to Rome a little over a year ago, my colleagues mocked me for not following Italian politics because surely newspapers in America had a special section for news from Italy. By the summer, they wanted to know who I thought the front-runner for the US democratic presidential nomination would be. It's the little things that make you realize just how big, powerful, and influential the United States can be. Yes, we can.

February 14, 2008

How 'bout them apples?

I got my first issue of New York Teacher in the mail yesterday. Apparently since I work for a state university, someone thought I would appreciate being reminded of this by receiving a newsletter printed on what appears to be legal-size or larger paper. The newsletter is put out by NYSUT, which I assume is the New York State Union of Teachers, but I can't find the expanded acronym anywhere on their site and the newsletter indicates the organization also covers "professionals in health care." Oooook.

Having never before been aware of this organization, I was confused when it arrived in my mailbox with a little profile picture of Hillary Clinton in the upper left corner. My first thought was that it was some kind of republican propaganda labelling Clinton as a slut.

The website for NYSUT is nysut.org. Like Sara's unfortunate mistyping of the address of the local Durham NBC affiliate channel 17, I found out that accidentally putting an L in the web address (and forgetting it's an .org) gets you a veeeery different kind of teacher-student relationship.

February 11, 2008

Upstate cuisine

I stopped in at the little cafe in the library at school to pick up something quick for lunch. I should have gone with the tomato tortellini soup, seeing as how it's in single digits here (and double negative digits with the windchill), but I opted for the "Crunchy Veggie Wrap." Mmm, crunchy veggies. I like that! I get back to my office, pop open the plastic tub, and see this. The only thing crunchy about the wrap is the lettuce (iceberg, of course). Other ingredients: tomatoes (the only other "veggie"), cheddar cheese, jack cheese, cream cheese, and bleu cheese (which they spell: blue cheese). I really shouldn't be surprised, but I am disappointed. The should rename the wrap something like, "We Have No Idea What Vegetarians Eat... But It Must Involve 4 Cheeses Wrap." Next time, I'll get the soup.

February 9, 2008

My first few weeks of school

Other than the snow day, this semester has been going well. With the paper deadline for CRAC nearing, I find my lectures not exactly up to par, but the labs are going well considering the issues with space, time, and resources. The first 6 or 7 weeks of this semester are devoted to osteology - I would have made the majority of the class osteo and integrated forensic examples throughout the lectures and labs, but with only 6 study skeletons and without a larger room for the students to study them properly, I'm cramming as much skeletal information as I can into a few short weeks.

The first lab involved animal-vs-human, old-vs-new, and bone-vs-nonbone. I set up six stations, with four of them devoted to various aspects of animal-vs-human anatomy (shoulder and ankle joints, jaw and vertebral column, cranial differences, and knee and pelvis). Most everyone managed to get bone-vs-nonbone, although the piece of coral was troublesome. And old-vs-new went well in spite of the fact that my "new" bone was days old because of the snowstorm.

The second lab (wow, two labs in one week!) took me several hours to put together, as I am obviously much more interested in developing hands-on exercises for the students than lecturing at them for 50 minutes. Since I'd only managed to cover the cranium on the day between the labs, I had exercises where the students had to label charts of the splanchnocranium, the calvarium, the endocranium, and the basilar portion. The biggest challenge in those was trying to figure out what the little lines in the crappy diagrams were pointing at. None of the 6 study skeletons had an associated hyoid bone, which was unfortunate, since I had already designed an exercise around the assumed presence of it. Ah well, the students used a textbook. A mandible let them speculate on the reason there were only two molars in each quadrant rather than three, and two more skulls let them test an exercise on aging and sexing a skeleton. One of my students even pointed out something I hadn't noticed about one of the study skeletons (which I just pulled out of its box that day): she retained her upper deciduous canines, which caused her upper left permanent canine to come in all wonky and her upper right canine not to erupt. It could be seen barely poking out of the bone of the palate behind the incisors - awesome. This will be a great teaching skull later in the semester to show what kinds of dental anomalies can help positively identify a body.

And later this week, I have a grant proposal due for course development. As this is a brand-new offering at Cortland, there isn't much in the way of equipment to teach forensic anthropology. I do have six disarticulated skeletons and one real articulated skeleton (kept under lock-and-key in an old locker), but my calipers are all plastic and appear to have come free with the skeletons, which were purchased around 1972. So I'm asking the school for a little under $500 to buy a few pairs of decent-quality digital vernier calipers, some outside (spring) calipers rather than the hella-expensive spreading calipers traditionally used to take the length and width of skulls, and a microscope. I read up a little on microscopes, and this is the one that I currently want. It appears to have good objective lenses, a viewing head that rotates 360 degrees, a movable stage, and LED illumination. It also has a USB cable to send output (stills and movies) to a computer. The last feature sold me on it, as I think a projectable microscope has excellent teaching value, and this one retains its functionality as a standard microscope for use by faculty who don't need this capability. But it's $450, which is the majority of my budget, so if you have any suggestions for other microscopes, let me know.

That's all the news from my course at the moment. I hope to hear from the school about the small grant within 2-3 weeks, but we'll see. Technically, we are supposed to requisition equipment through our department, but there wasn't enough time since it's a new course offering. Then again, Cornell and Ithaca College don't offer Forensic Anthropology, so Cortland might consider funding the course because it's unique in the area.

February 1, 2008

Snow Day!

I always appreciated snow days growing up in Virginia. Inevitably, school was cancelled because the buses couldn't reach the kids who lived out in bumfuck where it was icy, but in the city everything was perfectly normal. I was under the impression that snow days just don't happen here in upstate NY, with all the plows that make giant black piles of snow and the ice trucks that appear to have caused something metal to rust off the underside of the Toyota. But after being woken up every half hour in the twilight this morning to the sound of ice hitting the window (or, as Patrick apparently thought it was in his somnolent haze, the sound of my repeatedly hitting the space bar on my laptop), I checked the Cortland website - yup, closed. As a teacher, this means I have to reschedule the lab I had planned for today, the lab that I spent two hours and $1.83 on last night, attempting to cut through hamhocks with a hacksaw. As a student, this means I will probably have to walk to the post office to mail off my dissertation fellowship application, a layer of ice hitting the back of my neck the whole way. But as a researcher who has put off a looming paper deadline in favor of more immediate due dates, today is a great chance to catch my breath and get a head start on my data analysis.

But first, I should deal with the evidence of last night's massacre. There are two hand saws sitting at the bottom of the only bathtub in the house, covered with bits of flesh, and two chunks of bone sitting in a bowl of bleach in the sink. That's the last time I attempt to extract fresh bone for use in lab, or at least the last time I use pig knuckles, which are damned hard to cut through.

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