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Migrating from Wordpress

I decided it was time to move my blog from Wordpress to this site (and I’ll hopefully even update it a bit more regularly!). Rather than simply start from scratch, I’ve imported all of my Wordpress content, so that everything is in one place. Feel free to browse the old content here, but keep in mind that a lot of the old Wordpress formatting doesn’t work very well on Squarespace. I’ve fixed the 20 most recent posts, but anything older than that will probably look pretty weird until I go back and fix it. (Also, I’ve left diacritics untouched on the more recent posts, but the font I’m using here doesn’t render them very well, so they’ll look quite strange.)

These boots weren't made for this amount of walking

A little while back (a few months ago now, actually), I was back in Faynan for two weeks of archaeological survey. The project was, unfortunately, right in the middle of the UCSD Spring quarter, but it was small and fun, and we found some interesting things. I'll leave it to my girlfriend to describe those at some point, though, as it was her project, and we were mostly looking for prehistoric sites, which isn't exactly what I do, as occasional readers will have noted. I'm writing about it because, on this trip, I destroyed another pair of boots.

Dead Boots

There they are, on the floor in my room at ACOR, looking the way most archaeologists feel when they get back to ACOR after a field season.

This was my second pair of Merrell Moabs. On the one hand, I really like these boots. They're comfortable, they breathe well, and they provide enough ankle-support to survey fairly rocky terrain. Also, they tend to be easy to find on sale, which is nice if you're super cheap a grad student. On the other, I'm beginning to think they might not be my best choice in the future. Sure, survey is pretty rough on boots, but you'd think a pair of $100+ boots could stand up to more than two field seasons. . .

Also, I noticed as I was about to post this that Bill Caraher has recently posted about his own boot woes. To be fair, had I posted this when I intended, I would have beaten him by a few months!

Ghost towns on BuzzFeed

Travel Nevada has a BuzzFeed photo set featuring 20 photos of two early 20th century boomtowns (now ghost towns): Goldfield and Rhyolite. They actually posted this about a month ago, but I didn't see it until today when, through the miracle of the "related posts" links on some other article I was linked to, I stumbled across them. As you might have gathered, short-lived mining towns happen to be an interest of mine, so this naturally I had to look through these. The photos themselves are pretty neat, but none of them are so spectacular that I would have written this post to link to the set.What really caught my eye, though, was photo 19, which is one of the more interesting in the set in terms of subject matter. I don't consider myself a "truck person," but I recognize a late 1940s Ford when I see one, and that's a funny thing to see in a town that was abandoned in 1920. It really makes you think about the processes of abandonment and reuse in these ghost towns. As the Wikipedia article notes, Rhyolite may have been abandoned by 1920, but reuse – both as a movie set and a tourist destination – occurred as early as the mid-1920s. So, on the one hand, nobody was living there permanently, but on the other hand it's not as if everyone suddenly forgot about it and we've now found it as it was when everyone left. This truck, now presented in an "eerie" abandonment photo, wasn't even produced until almost 30 years after Rhyolite became a ghost town, and now it, too, has been abandoned there.

One thing I didn't miss about Jordan

I've just returned to the States from a week-long trip to Jordan – after less than two months back in San Diego following my fieldwork in Jordan this fall – to attend the 7th World Archaeological Congress. The conference was interesting, and the crowd was rather different from most of the meetings I've attended recently (more on all of this, hopefully, in the near future).  It was a bit strange to be back in Jordan so soon, though, and for such a short amount of time.Overall, I genuinely like Jordan a lot, and this trip was quite pleasant, even though I had to wake up and leave my hotel before dawn (and, more importantly, before they served breakfast) in order to get to the conference center on time. One thing I was reminded of, though – especially since I was waking up early every day – is how difficult it is to find a decent cup of coffee (by which, being an American, I mean "stock") in Jordan. That isn't to say that good coffee doesn't exist there. I actually find Arabic/Turkish coffee, generally served mildly sweet with cardamom added, quite delicious. But I usually prefer American coffee, and when that's served there, it's almost always instant coffee, generally referred to by the generic trademark Nescafe (نسكافيه).When we're out digging, we tend to have genuine Nescafe, usually the ubiquitous Red Mug variety, which is, at least, recognizable as something approaching actual coffee, although I wouldn't call it something I particularly like.  This trip, though, every cup of American coffee I drank was off-brand instant coffee, which can be surprisingly bad. I still gladly drank it (any port in a storm and all that), but it did make me reflect on how good we have it out in the field sometimes. We might be living in tents and waking up at 4:30 in the morning, but at least our Nescafe is, comparatively, not that bad.

Americanisms and the BBC

This article on Americanisms appeared in the BBC News Magazine yesterday.  I'm not what you'd call a "language expert," and I probably wouldn't comment on this article here, except that the author (I can't find a byline anywhere), Matthew Engel, makes a claim at the beginning that seems both too good to check and like something you could easily check over your morning coffee.  So I decided, since my university library provides access to the OED, to spoil everyone's fun and check it while drinking my morning coffee.  That claim, if you haven't read the article yet, is that five words listed at the beginning of the article "were never part of the English language until the establishment of the United States."Never?  Well, here's what I found (all information from the OED, should you want to check).  "Lengthy" does, indeed, seem to be an Americanism; the earliest example the OED gives is from the diary of John Adams in 1759.  We're off to a good start.Engel proves to be less reliable (get it?) with the next four, however.  "Reliable" has, in fact, been a part of the English language since the mid-16th century according to the OED, although it seems to have become rare for a few centuries and then made a comeback as an Americanism.  Nonetheless, Engel is technically incorrect; the word predates the establishment of the United States.  "Talented" is, arguably, even older, although its 15th century usage relies on an archaic meaning of "talent."  Still, the earliest examples of the modern sense are all British, and one, with a similar but slightly different sense, is from the early 17th century.  "Influential," again, predates the United States.  The earliest example the OED gives is from an Anglican sermon in the mid-17th century, although this is in the sense of being influential on something.  The first use in the sense of "an influential person" is from the early 18th century, and, of course, by a British man.  "Tremendous," in the sense of something awful, also dates back to the early 17th century, and the OED examples for this use are British.  The hyperbolic sense that we use it in now is later – early 19th century – but the earliest usages are, somewhat predictably, British.  I guess one out of five isn't too bad.Engel fares a little better with the rest of the words in the article, although there are still quite a few that don't meet the initial claim.  I'm also a little skeptical of the statement at the end of the article that modern British English is the "original version" of the language, though.  Do the British still use thorn and wynn when we Americans aren't looking?Edit (07/16/2011):  Looks like Mark Liberman, who actually is a language expert, covered this piece this morning over at Language Log, complete with an explanation of why it doesn't really matter whether or not the claims Engel makes are actually true.

Pleasure reading

In between the work I've been doing, I've also had some time to read a few things for my own amusement, and recently finished Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men on the Bummel, the equally-amusing-but-still-not-quite-as-good follow up to Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), from which the title of this blog is taken. In both books, Jerome often discusses the history of the places they visit, and many of these descriptions are pretty funny. Given my own work, I found this line in his description of Breisach especially good:

But when one begins to think of these things one finds oneself wondering why anybody in the Middle Ages, except kings and tax collectors, ever took the trouble to live at all