February 27, 2015

Three goofy links: Part II

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 10:15 am

Megan McArdle, over at Bloomberg, has an article up regarding corporate natural selection: The Church of Wal-Mart

I got a lot of responses to my post last week on Wal-Mart’s decision to raise the minimum wage many of its employees earn to $10 an hour next year. One variety of response stood out: the folks who said “Wal-Mart is doing this because it’s good for its business.”

It stood out because it is almost right, but not quite. The correct statement is that “Wal-Mart is doing this because it thinks it’s good for its business.” Never ignore the possibility that Wal-Mart could be completely wrong.

I remark on this because some of the arguments I saw verged upon what I’ve come to think of as “corporation theology”: the belief that if a corporation is doing something, that thing must be incredibly profitable. This is no less of a faith-based statement than the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Yet it is surprisingly popular among commentators, not just on the right, but also on the left.

What this does is confuse the ideas of intentionality and natural selection. Selection doesn’t really work on intentions, it works on things. No matter your best intentions, if you try to make a car with square wheels it’s not going to work very well (in most contexts). But as humans we like to think of ourselves as problem solvers — “necessity being the mother of invention” and all that — but all that really is, is a way of producing variation that natural selection can work on. It doesn’t matter, from selection’s perspective (to anthropomorphize a little), where the variation comes from, be it random mutation or intentional alteration. It just acts on the results.

But she makes an important point:

Corporations, like all human institutions, are great engines for making mistakes. The only reason they seem so competent is that companies who make too many mistakes go out of business, and we don’t have them around for comparison.

Which links to the above rather nicely: We see as end results those intentional things that worked and so assume the inventor had some kind of foresight that it would work (which may well be the case sometimes), but we forget all the myriad other attempts that never got anywhere. But let’s also remind ourselves that this isn’t an optimality game either, as the QWERTY keyboard makes clear.

Three goofy links: Part I

Filed under: Pop culture — acagle @ 10:06 am

I don’t know what the deal is with this silly photograph, but it seems to be causing some small amount of consternation Interwebs-wide:
Desert Fox

This Wired article explains what’s going on. . . .mostly, I guess. Our brain does a a lot more interpreting than we tend to think it does, for example the famous tile color illusion:

Which explains some of this, but there’s also the fact that it’s a photograph,, not something you’re actually looking at so the various filters and adjustments will change what colors are being presented, which your brain then tries to make the best guess using.

I dunno why people are so fixated on it, it just seems dumb. But then, as Wired says, must be a Thursday on the Interwebs.

February 26, 2015

Okay, that’s kinda creepy

Filed under: Mummies — acagle @ 8:12 pm

Desert Fox

Mummified Monk Sits Inside Ancient Buddha Statue
Researchers at the Drents Museum in the Netherlands made a shocking discovery when they imaged an ancient Chinese statue and found a nearly 1,000-year-old mummy inside.

Sitting in the lotus position, the mummy fits within the statue perfectly.

“On the outside, it looks like a large statue of Buddha,” the museum said in a release. “Scan research has shown that on the inside, it is the mummy of a Buddhist monk who lived around the year 1100.”

They go into this whole “self-mummification” thing which is a bit dubious to me. His organs were removed so it had to be an outside job, so to speak.

This has been all over the place

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:07 pm

Large Hoard of Gold Coins Found in Israel

Almost 2,000 gold coins, discovered by amateur divers near the port city of Caesarea in Israel, form the largest single hoard of medieval gold coins ever found in the country.

Amateur divers and professional underwater archaeologists form the Israel Antiquities Authority have found what they say is the largest hoard of medieval gold coins ever found in Israel. Image credit: Israel Antiquities Authority.
The hoard, dating from the Fatimid period (10th – 12th century CE), was found by a group of amateur divers who immediately reported the find to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

“The discovery of such a large hoard of coins that had such tremendous economic power in antiquity raises several possibilities regarding its presence on the seabed,” said Dr Kobi Sharvit, director of IAA’s Marine Archaeology Unit

Hard to miss ‘em, as they wouldn’t have corroded at all (photo shows some in situ).

Hmmmmm. . . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — acagle @ 8:03 pm

Ancient cities grew like their modern counterparts, archaeologists say

According to archaeological data from a comprehensive study of countless ancient sites in Mexico, a team of archaeologists have discovered ancient cities grew like their modern counterparts.

A team of researchers from the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, led by Luis Bettencourt, have been investigating urban development and construction through the lens of social interaction. Bettencourt says that city development leads to the creation of so-called “social reactors,” or the opportunity to magnify social interaction through growth. Larger cities become more efficient and more productive – research shows that doubling a city’s population brings a 15 percent per capita in GDP, wages, and other not-so positive aspects like violent crime through a process that Bettencourt and his team refer to as “urban scaling.”

I’ve seen similar analyses before, but I’d be interested to see how they got “GDP” from the archaeological record.

February 25, 2015

And still more booze

Filed under: Alcohol — acagle @ 8:22 pm

The Art of Making (and, of Course, Drinking) Ancient Booze

For one of its specialty beers, Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland skips the state-of-the-art equipment for an elaborate system of clay vessels. It doesn’t bottle the milky blond beers, either. Instead, the brewers haul the vessels to tasting events, where beer-heads huddle together and suck the sour, lemony ale through dried daylily stems, from below a thin layer of yeast and barley husks.

The scene looks like a stone relief brought to life — because it is. Great Lakes Brewing Company and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute have teamed up to recreate beer as it was made in Sumer — an ancient civilization located in present-day Iraq — some 5,000 years ago. They’re part of a growing movement of archaeologists, brewers and winemakers seeking to reconstitute ancient booze using ingredients identified from analyses of drinking vessels and other artifacts. The practice helps archaeologists shed light on ancient fermentation processes, and makers of beer and wine gain a deeper, historical appreciation of their craft.

I need to do some serious searching for a recipe. . . .

UPDATE: Hmmmmm.

Almost irritating. . . .but kind of sweet

Filed under: Amateur — acagle @ 8:15 pm

No, not me: Rare Jurassic fossil found by Butleigh archaeologist while clearing stones for pond liner

A YOUNG woman with a passion for archaeology has uncovered a remarkable find near her home in Butleigh.

Cara Ault was helping her parents as they were working to clear stones before putting down the liner.

Her father Thomas Affleck said: “We were clearing out our pond, getting rid of stones. You can’t put the liner down without getting rid of them.

“Suddenly Cara shouted out, ‘I think I’ve found a fossil!’, and she help up this huge thing. I thought it looked like a ram’s horn at first, but it turned out to be this amazing ammonite.”

So no, technically she’s not an archaeologist. But she has a life-long interest in it, so we here at ArchaeoBlog will let it slide and wish her well.

Booze, booze, and more booze

Filed under: Alcohol — acagle @ 8:11 pm

The Fascinating World of Alcohol Archaeology

Not actually much there but it has a couple of interesting links.

February 24, 2015

Let’s hope

Filed under: Public Health — acagle @ 8:10 pm

Italian cemetery may provide insights to cholera’s evolution

Located near the ruins of the abandoned Badia Pozzeveri church in Italy’s Tuscany region, the graveyard contains bodies of cholera victims of the world cholera epidemic of the 1850’s.
“To our knowledge, these are the best preserved remains of cholera victims of this time period ever found,” said Clark Spencer Larsen, professor of anthropology at the Ohio State University and one of the leaders of the excavation team. “We’re very excited about what we may be able to learn.”

And speaking of the Black Death:
After 8 centuries, rats exonerated in spread of Black Death. Gerbils implicated.

After nearly eight centuries of accusing the black rat for spreading the bubonic plague, scientists say they have compelling evidence to exonerate the much-maligned rodent. In the process, they’ve identified a new culprit: gerbils.

It’s always the cute ones you have to watch out for, isn’t it?

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, climate data dating back to the 14th century contradicts the commonly held notion that European plague outbreaks were caused by a reservoir of disease-carrying fleas hosted by the continent’s rat population.

I’m not convinced about the weather aspect. Even so, I believe the most deadly form of the Black Death was the pneumonic form which could be transferred by air anyway.

Academia update

Filed under: Academia — acagle @ 8:05 pm

An astonishingly small number of elite universities produce an overwhelming number of America’s professors.

Robert Oprisko is among those who believe the hiring system isn’t a meritocracy. He graduated in 2011 with a Ph.D. in political science from Purdue University. He had won a hefty number of awards, published articles, and had a book contract for his dissertation. But the best he could do on the job market was a one-year visiting assistant professorship at Butler University. Now he’s a research fellow at Indiana University, a position that doesn’t pay, but, as Oprisko puts it, “makes you appear that you are still in the system, so it gives you a prayer of getting a job within the academy.”

At the same time Oprisko was struggling to find work, he says his Ivy League political science colleagues, like a friend of his at University of Pennsylvania, had no problem landing elite postdocs and professorship opportunities. “He’s a wonderful guy, but he hadn’t actually done anything,” Oprisko says of his friend from UPenn. And Oprisko doesn’t think he’s imagining this bias against him; he says he’s been told by his mentors that, “There is an imprimatur of being ‘Ivy’ all the way down. You’re the cream of the crop if you can claim to be of a certain status from bottom to top.” He’s stopped listing his master’s degree from Indiana State on his résumé. He’s been told it’s better to have it appear as if he was doing nothing at all during that time than to be associated with a low-prestige school.

Just because the credentialing is “elite” doesn’t necessarily mean the education is. As I’ve said before, success in academia tends to imply that you’re good at becoming part of the culture, not necessarily that you’re “smart” or produce really good work.

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