Using Laser to Map Ancient Civilization in a Matter of Days –

As an archeology geek with interest in the Mayans, I go squee: Using Laser to Map Ancient Civilization in a Matter of Days.

Then, in the dry spring season a year ago, the husband-and-wife team of Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase tried a new approach using airborne laser signals that penetrate the jungle cover and are reflected from the ground below. They yielded 3-D images of the site of ancient Caracol, in Belize, one of the great cities of the Maya lowlands.

In only four days, a twin-engine aircraft equipped with an advanced version of lidar (light detection and ranging) flew back and forth over the jungle and collected data surpassing the results of two and a half decades of on-the-ground mapping, the archaeologists said. After three weeks of laboratory processing, the almost 10 hours of laser measurements showed topographic detail over an area of 80 square miles, notably settlement patterns of grand architecture and modest house mounds, roadways and agricultural terraces.

It has an interactive graphic! It’s awesome! The city is huge!

[Book Review] Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard W. Wrangham

(This review talks about human evolution. If you’re into ID, I’m sure my next post will be full of something not about human evolution.)

Dr. Wrangham is a British Primatologist over at Harvard and his book, “Catching Fire,” is an interesting science book full of nothing but science. He starts with a basic supposition that something happened on the evolutionary boundary between the habilines, largely shown as Homo Habilis and our buddy Home Erectus. By examining the skull structure, chest cavity, molar structure, and the analysis of diet, nutrition and food science, his theory states that humanity made two major jumps:

1. Australopithecine -> Homo Habilis by the introduction of scavenged meat into the diet, well pounded with early tools to make it palatable and digestible.

2. Homo Habilis -> Homo Erectus by placing the vegetables and meat in the fire cook the food.

He marries primatology with food science to show how cooked meat and vegetables greatly reduces the time to chew and digest food while keeping the exact same caloric and nutritional content of food. Experiments show feeding cooked and easy to chew food to animals, especially primates, results in very fat primates who always prefer cooked food to raw. Raw food consumes an enormous time to chew and requires large molars, which Homo Sapiens no longer has, but cooked food needs a smaller digestive system and smaller molars. It also frees Homo Sapiens from the task of chewing all day to doing other things — a rate of spending 60% of the day chewing down to less than 10%. Energy also is conserved in physiology — all animals across all species and genus with access to easily digested food have reduced gut size and put all that energy into increased brain cavity.

Fire provides a whole host of other evolutionary advantages — more hours in the day available to be active, a source of protection at night, a source of warmth, a place for culture to grow and breed, and a clear division of labor between the sexes — hunting and cooking. Dr. Wrangham pulls dozens of examples from many different hunter-gatherer cultures worldwide, from Inuit to Australian aborigines to the !Kung of Africa to South Pacific Islanders, and finds commonalities that involve cooking, meat/vegetable balance, and division of labor and economic trade-offs. All revolves around fire and food.

As for keeping a fire going, experiments show that chimpanzees can keep a fire going indefinitely. If a fire, captured, was brought in to a cave or another protected place and was properly venerated as the God it is, certainly a fire could be kept going. Homo Habilis was a tool-maker and tool-user — if Homo Habilis realized using the gold (pyrite-filled) stones to smash instead of the grey or brown ones, fire would start, and it had enough presence to repeat the process, fire could be made and kept going. It’s reasonable to believe mankind made fire and kept fire far before measured time.

The arguments make sense and they are well sourced with tons of footnotes, a vast bibliography, and references pulled from other sources. The argument is also persuasive — we can find fire pits up to 800,000 years old and after that there is no trace but that means very little. If one little group became Homo Erectus and survived, we would never find evidence of that one small tribe who lived on. Too many evolutionary advantages match with the archeological evidence. Something happened at that boundary between Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus, something that allowed the gut to shrink and the brain to expand and Homo Erectus to spread all over the world. Keeping fire and cooking food makes sense and the arguments are reasonable.

It’s a fairly short, quick read as these sorts of books go at 320 pages. Highly recommended to anyone interested in human evolution and/or food science.

[Book Review] Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

Kim lent me a copy of the hardbound first collection of the graphic novel Castle Waiting by Linda Medley and produced by Fantagraphics Books. The story is a sort of feminist Chaucer set in the never never land of fairy tales. It opens with the story of Castle Waiting, a castle set over a land once lush and prosperous until it became the bramble-covered castle of the story of Sleeping Beauty. Once the Prince woke the Princess and everyone else from their century-long sleep the town was gone and the castle destroyed. With the castle abandoned by all but a few, it became Castle Waiting.

The stories in Castle Waiting are charming and entertaining but lack emotional punch. It’s difficult not to be charmed by the book as the stories are light, funny and entertaining. A pregnant woman flees from her abusive husband and falls into peril before she manages to reach Castle Waiting and give birth to her strange green son. A horse-headed knight and the stork-shaped keeper of the castle go into town for supplies and meet up with bandits. A full second half of the book involves the story of the local nun and how a bearded girl joined a circus, left a circus, and found herself among a feminist order in the service of God. The story of the nun goes on too long — it spins into backstories about backstories that have backstories — but is otherwise fun to read. It’s sort of the fantasy lives of the women of various fantasy series while their men go off and fight wars and the great battles between Good and Evil.

It’s a fun read. It’s well and clearly written. The art is top-notch for being b&w. It’s very light. I’m not certain it’s a “read more than once” but it is handsomely bound and looks good sitting on a shelf among other books. It makes a nice introduction to comics for people who aren’t enormous comic-book people and aren’t interested in requiring an encyclopedic knowledge of this universe or that one going back 40 years. Although it has fairy tale references it is a self-contained volume.

I’ll happily read volume #2 when it comes out. This one comes recommended for those looking to get into comics and not knowing where to start, or those who enjoy comics from time to time but don’t want to invest in some huge story. It’s a great intro-story. It may not be a good recommendation for people who are hard core comics nerds who are looking for more meat out of their stories.

(Also, it needs to go back to its owner!)

The ‘Terror-Gap’

I made the mistake of reading this over on the Huffington Post and my head exploded.

Mayor Bloomberg points out, reasonably enough, that if someone is placed on the terrorism watchlist/no-fly list, that person should be denied when going through the background check to purchase a firearm. Makes a certain amount of sense, yes? If the FBI thinks you shouldn’t fly, maybe you shouldn’t buy a gun or explosives to cause mass havoc on the ground.

But NO!

The same cast of idiots who want to strip accused terrorists of their citizenship and drag them off to camps to torture them would never think to deprive these same people of their Second Amendment Rights. Because dammit, that potential terrorist can have all the guns he (or she) wants until he or she converts to a real terrorist and kills people! And at that point we remove all their rights, except the Second Amendment one, and torture them until they tell us where they got the guns, which may or may not be “Meijer.*”

Now, granted, there is a serious argument about innocent people on the terrorist watch list who may be deprived of their right to own a vast collection of firearms. And supposedly these people don’t fly and would only realize this when they went to buy a gun. That doesn’t make the suggestion less reasonable. It exposes a need for transparency into this terrorist watch list and an appeals process to get off it.

This hurts my head.

* If you’re a Michigan terrorist. But we don’t talk about those cuz they’re not brown.


It turns my stomach to see US Senators saying we should not Mirandize a suspect or we should revoke the citizenship of a (not convicted, only suspected) US citizen because they do not like the nature of the crime. With absolutely astonishment I read the words of various GOP Senators and Congressmen (and one Joe Lieberman) suggesting we should waive Supreme Court-granted Miranda Rights (McCain), or put a US Citizen before a military commission (Rep Pete King (R-NY)) or strip the man of his citizenship entirely (Lieberman). Suddenly I find myself on the side of Glenn Beck and Antonin Scalia* of all people.

Just because a citizen is unpopular or commits unpopular acts does not mean you may strip the man of his citizenship and deprive him of his lawfully and constitutionally granted rights. We did not strip citizenship from John Wilkes Booth or Charles Guiteau or Leon Czolgosz or Lee Harvey Oswald (who was himself assassinated) or Timothy McVey or Sirhan Sirhan or the guy who shot up Fort Hood or anyone else who has done anything reprehensible. Unlike our Times Square bomber, these guys carried out their plans to fruition. Are these not all terror acts of one sort or another?

Are our elected representatives so craven and fearful of some ‘other’ across the ocean that they will not stand proudly and tall behind Due Process and the US Constitution? Do they truly wish to strip a citizen of their citizenship as standing accused and not yet convicted?

We are better than this.

Update: Joe Lieberman is writing some fancy pants bill to strip people of their citizenship based on what Joe Lieberman wants to see in citizens. What a coward.

I, now, am penning a bill to strip whiny US Senators of their citizenship for sucking. I want to move to Connecticut just to vote against him when he’s next up.

Scalia argued in the Hamid case that a policy of ‘denaturalization’ would force the US Constitution to support a suspended habeaus corpus which he would never support.

Viva la New York

It looks like maybe, possibly, a Pakistani naturalized citizen decided, for reasons unknown, to buy a 1993 Nissan off craigslist for cash (sneaky!), drive it into Manhattan, and try to light it on fire in Times Square. Reasons why will come out in the next few weeks, I’m sure, but for now those are the facts reported in the Major Newspapers of Note.

Had this happened somewhere that was not New York, or if it was being handled by DHS instead of the NYPD, right now it would be:



You get the idea. No more mid-sized SUVs from the mid-90s allowed in downtown Manhattan. No one allowed to wear socks on Tuesday. Threat Level elevated to puce. And that ruling would never, ever be rescinded. Because We Are At War.

Instead it happened in New York, the only city in the nation to have undergone a real, actual, and very terrible terrorist attack. And two guys running hot dog carts saw the vehicle smoking and reported it to a mounted police officer. And the mounted police officer called it in. Reasonable measures were taken. The police went to the tape. They arrested the guy trying to get on a plane to Dubai**. He’s being charged. And life has gone on.

Sure there are jerks saying we shouldn’t Mirandize an American Citizen (I am looking at you, Sen. McCain) which is, well, illegal. But this is it, and it is how it should be. The point of terrorism is to cause terror. If terrorism only instills light mockery and a slight shrug, the enemy is defanged. The enemy will have to find some new way to inflict damage on America.

“Dude,” New York says. “We’ve seen your worst and we’re not afraid of you.”

And I still think the Twin Towers should be rebuilt exactly as they were — except 1 story taller.

* You must be doubly searched if you are a) brown or b) in Arizona. You must be tripley searched if you are both brown and in Arizona.
** Can you look more guilty?

Quick Gardening Update

The world is too depressing to blog about and it’s thunderstorming outside, so here’s something real simple: a quick gardening update.

I have a little 3×3 plot for organic vegatable gardening. One of the squares doesn’t get enough sunlight during the day to grow adequately so that leaves me with 8 squares. Last year I had some massive vegatable planting over reach — I tried to start the seeds myself, I started too many seeds, etc. This year I decided on:

– 1 plant/foot.

Now, I am pretty certain if I went for density I could do 2 plants/foot, but this year I am trying careful planting. I bought my plants instead of started them from seeds so I don’t have to deal with hardening the plant. And beside, at Behnke’s, a plant is $1.69. Each plant already has a stake and is tied loosely to its stake to guide it properly as it grows. I have:

– 3 cherry tomato plants, each of different breeds to see how cherry tomatos do.
– 1 hungarian pepper
– 1 regular green pepper
– 1 jalapeño
– 1 cherry bomb pepper
– 1 pickling cucumber

Note the one cucumber. Last year the cucumbers ran amok and I had all cucumbers and nothing else. I had too many cucumber plants. This year, I reduced them by 2/3rds and already staked it so that it cannot go anywhere. Also, no herbs this year. While herbs grow fantastic, really fantastic, unbelievably fantastic, unless you’re really a huge fan of herbs and you cut them constantly, all that happens is they overgrow and overrun and then die.

I was tempted by the eggplant but no one I know eats eggplants. No squash for the same reason. I considered a zucchini but that means a lot of zucchini and I hear they overgrow worse than cucumbers.

We’ll see how this works out. I have serious high hopes for the cherry tomatos. Not only will they get cooked, but they’ll get eaten right off the vine. One thing from my childhood — fresh grown cherry tomatoes off the vine!