November 27, 2008


Ur Doin' It Rong...

November 24, 2008

Terrible advertising

This popped up on the right-hand advert bar in my Facebook today.

I now expect flowers from everyone for Thanksgiving. You can wait, though, until there's a year in which Thanksgiving falls on Thursday, November 17th, as I'm fairly certain that would be never. (I'm sure Patrick can mathematically prove this.)

Maybe the ad is referring instead to the famous Greek Marxist group, whose signs I occasionally saw the summer I lived on Crete.

Sulphur? I hardly know her!

I had a thought the other day: perhaps I could test the individuals from the Casal Bertone mausoleum in order to figure out if they worked in the nearby fullonica or not. Not a whole lot is known about the ancient process of fulling, except the salacious fact that fullers used donated urine to clean the cloth. After it was cleaned (the ammonia in the urine reacting with the natural grease in the wool to form a kind of soap), the light-colored cloth would be bleached. This was done using a conical frame, upon which the wet cloth would be draped, and a pot of burning sulphur underneath (or sulfur, if you prefer the American spelling). There's a drawing of this from a house in Pompeii:

This got me thinking: I wonder how bad sulphur inhalation is for a person? Sulphur in and of itself is not toxic, and in fact is required for life, but products such as sulphur dioxide can cause problems, especially neurological and metabolic issues. Presumably, sulphur is also incorporated into the remodelling human body the way that C, N, and Sr are. So if a person worked in a fullonica, would he have had more exposure to sulphur and thus higher levels of it in his bones?

I can't seem to find a lot of information online about either isotopic or trace element analysis of sulphur in an archaeological (bone) context. It's all about petroleum and fish and stuff. I think I'm looking into trace elements rather than isotopes, as I think the isotopes would help me identify if someone was an immigrant (sulphur being concentrated more in volcanic areas like Rome). But since it's trace element analysis that can help prove Pb poisoning, perhaps it can also prove S poisoning? There's a lot about anthropogenic Pb and how to test for it (which would be pointless in Rome, as they used lead to line their aqueduct pipes, in ceramic production, and even flavored wine with it!), but I can't find much on anthropogenic sulphur. I wish I had a chemist friend... or even an archaeological trace element analysis friend... someone to tell me if this is an avenue worth pursuing or not.

November 22, 2008

Labs Suck

I have 3 sets of columns to finish running so that I can get my samples done before Thanksgiving. This was the plan, anyway, because more Sr will be run on the SEM in early December, and I wanted my samples to be among them. So I got in at 9am and found a parking space, in spite of the insane football traffic in advance of the noon game, and started preparing columns. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the centrifuge to work, so I sent out email to a bunch of lab staff to see what I was missing. One of the grad students, Mike, came in around 11 and got the centrifuge on. I set it up, all was good, and an undergrad happened to mention that one of the lab rooms smelled funny. Mike determined that the hoods weren't working - the hoods that suck out all the bad fumes from the gross chemicals (mostly hydrochloric, hydrofluoric, and nitric acids) - and ordered us all out until Public Safety can get the hoods working again.

So I have some columns drying out, but fortunately didn't lose any samples because I hadn't loaded them yet. I was a bit worried about having been in a lab with no functioning fume hoods for 2 hours, though. The MSDS (material safety data sheets) of course told me that all of these acids are highly corrosive and that, if inhaled, a person should immediately get fresh air or oxygen and see a doctor. The MSDS, though, always seem to be for the highest concentration of a given chemical: and I was fairly certain that it was 7 molar nitric acid that was making the fumes, as that was the only acid I was using (I had 14 beakers drying down on a hotplate). 7 molar isn't all that high, but I ended up going to Student Health anyway, weaving my way through the throngs of hooligans headed to the game, as it was 11:30 by this point.

Fortunately, the physician's assistant there said that, were I going to get pulmonitis, it would likely have been acute and it would have shown up by that point. Based on my presentation, he didn't think there was anything to worry about. But, if I develop asthma-like symptoms within the next 24-48 hours, I should get myself to the ER, where they'll do a chest xray and maybe give me steroids. Whee!

I think I'm going to sit in my house with the humidifier on all weekend attempting to clean out my mucous membranes of any inhaled nitric acid. This will leave me quite far behind on my sample prep and unable to make the early December deadline. Double whee! Why do I pretend that I'm a scientist?

November 16, 2008

Swords and Crisco

I was editing a thesis and came across this figure:

Apparently this is a well-known model in macroeconomics that indicates the relationship between a nation's expenditures on civilian goods and military goods. Wikipedia seems unclear as to the origin of the term - guns make sense, but butter? Why would that food be picked over all foods to represent civilian interests? Butter's hardly a staple food for any society, not like potatoes in Ireland or pasta in Italy or rice in China.

November 14, 2008

... and the department returneth.

Turns out, anthro had more money in the tuition pot than they thought. So now I get to teach 101 at the Friday Center again. Yay? Here's me being cautiously optimistic about my spring prospects. I still have to hurry up and pick a textbook and hammer out a syllabus for a class I haven't taught in something like six years, though. In the hopes that they won't take it away again. Maybe I'll wait until I have more time over Thanksgiving.

November 12, 2008

Roamin' Romans

It seems that the 3D live walk-through of ancient Rome is available now in Google Earth. After this fellowship application is done, I want to play around with it. It details the city around 320 AD, the height of the Empire and largest extent of the city. It'll be interesting to see if they just have the area within the walls or any of the suburbium. (My guess is the former.) The project is spearheaded by the Rome Reborn project, headed by Bernie Frisher at UVa. It's too bad he wasn't there when I was in school - this is something I totally could have gotten into, in spite of the fact that I'm not a huge fan of architecture as a scholarly pursuit.

November 11, 2008

The department giveth...

A little over a week ago, I got an email from the assistant chair offering me a position teaching intro to anthro as an extension course (night school). It's a new class, but at an enrollment cap of 20, I thought it could be interesting. After all, I've taught extension courses before at the community college. I accepted the verbal and written offers and started collecting syllabi and my thoughts about a textbook to assign.

Yesterday, I was unoffered the position. There's some kind of confusion over whether or not this position comes with tuition remission. It was offered to me as a graduate teaching fellowship, which requires the graduate student be enrolled. As long as the student is within the university's 10-semester remission limit, they get free tuition and insurance, in addition to a stipend. Now, I'm technically an out-of-state student this year because the residency office is a bunch of boneheads and, well, technically I was living out of state last year. But no one told me that a job offer would be recinded by the department simply because I was out of state, like many other students are.

So I'm a bit pissed. And so I launch into my normal rant about how the department should really consider funding students in their last and second-to-last years, those of us really trying to push out a dissertation and go out and get real jobs. Those of us who've put in our time, gotten prestigious external grants that require us to stay an extra semester doing dissertation work, and always have excellent teaching evaluations from students and professors who've supervised us... for example. But the department instead favors the younger students who don't know how to get outside funding and are still taking classes. Which I suppose is fair. But if they just let in, like, 8 new students a year rather than 15, perhaps we wouldn't be in such tight financial straits.

Anyone need an anthropology class taught this spring?

November 6, 2008

Stop the portmanteausanity!

Really? Hologramterview? There is no reason for that to be a word. Thanks, CNN.

November 5, 2008

Collective Memory

When I was in second grade, a black family moved in next door to us. They were the first in our very white neighborhood, but were followed pretty quickly by two more families as General Electric expanded in the late 80s in central Virginia. It’s the first time I can remember being aware not just of race but what it meant socially, as some members of the neighborhood weren’t too happy with this development. But I became fast friends with Courtney up the street, while my brother made long-lasting friendships with Joe and DeeDee, his closest friends to this day. This was not even twenty years after my mom’s New Jersey high school was integrated in the early 70s. Her class yearbook photos, always the large-format classy portraits where everyone’s wearing a black dress or a suit, suddenly included a sprinkling of people without the Polish, Russian, or Italian heritage that had always made up the entirety of the school. Now, twenty years removed from my first memories of race and forty from my mom's, my future children will grow up not only with a school and a neighborhood that reflect the diversity of the American populace, but a government that does as well. And that’s pretty cool.

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