Posts in Category: thoughts

Light years away by Edurne Rubio – a review

I have been fortunate to attend a representation of “Light years away” by Ms. Edurne Rubio in Groningen, Netherlands. The artist is the daughter of one of the explorers of the cave system of Ojo Guareña, near Burgos, Spain and has a long and intimate connection with the caves. The performance mixes monologue, surround sound, video and theatrical performance. In its basic structure, it is the representation of a guided tour of the caves, one that is imaginary and not constricted by time or space. For those not knowing the caves, it is an extraordinary long (about 110 km known) cave system, with several subterranean lakes, at least 6 levels, and multiple openings. The upper cave system was frequented by humans from the Upper Paleolithic to the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age, in different moments, before being rediscovered only in the past century. There are significant traces of human presence, including complex panels of rock art, residues of torches, burials, and even ancient... Read the rest of this entry »

Modern humans vs. the other hominins

The discovery of possible human teeth in Flores, in the same cave where Homo floriensis lived, has opened up a debate on the colonization of our planet by anatomically modern humans. In many ways, humans are not dissimilar by other natural species, and except for the use of complex languages, the ability to create tools, and human creativity (the ability to think and imagine the abstract or what is not yet material, the human mind), it is hard to separate humans from animals from a scientific point. Increasingly, intelligence and consciousness are recognized in animals, last perhaps the dolphins, who have some form of language (The study of acoustic signals and the supposed spoken language of the dolphins) and even larger brains than humans. So it is becoming difficult to define humans, and all characteristics that are unique can be reduced to abilities in abstract and symbolic thinking. Studying hominins, the ancestors of modern humans, can offer some clues about traits that are... Read the rest of this entry »

Website updated

I have updated the underlying website, and please let me know of anything broken. Some older pages will have broken links, but that is the nature of the Internet. I started writing this website in 1998, so in nearly 20 years I have acquired some first hand knowledge of the Web even if I am not an IT specialist. Just a geek at heart. I remember my first efforts to write HTML code compatible with version 3.2, then 4, and all the troubles in making it compatible with different browsers. Then XHTML came as an attempt to merge HTML and XML into a standard, but it failed to be adopted. Currently, HTML5 is hardly a fixed standard, and support is very varied among browsers. Adobe Flash was the first attempt to make the Web interactive and multimedia, but I never liked it, and it is leaving us, not a moment too soon. Content Management Systems (CMS) have made programs to produce web pages obsolete, and made possible to publish online to the masses. So what changed this round? I changed web... Read the rest of this entry »

Tips for a Safe Upgrade to Windows 10

I thought to share my experience in upgrading to Windows 10, leaving aside for once the usual topics. I have been using Windows since 3.11, largely the NT and Pro versions, and can say that this is the first time that I would encourage someone to do an upgrade over a clean install. In the last few years, I have upgraded my main laptop from Windows 7, to 8, then 8.1 and finally Windows 10, and all this for £14.99. Windows 10, the latest version, is a free upgrade, and apparently will be kept on a business model that requires buying a license with the device, and get free updates for the lifetime of the device. All these upgrades happened in less than 3 years, which shows the impressive pace in development behind Windows. During this time something previously unconceivable happened: PCs, intended as laptops and desktops, have been overtaken by mobile devices, primarily smartphones. In fact, consumer devices with some sort of OS (mostly proprietary ones or some variant of Linux) have... Read the rest of this entry »

An Archaeological Perspective of Today’s World

I am currently interested in applying archaeological methods to contemporary issues. The purpose is twofold: to demonstrate the relevance of archaeological studies to non-archaeologists and to test the methods in cases where we can eventually obtain all necessary information. Archaeological methods fare particularly well with complex situations where incomplete (and random) data only survive. In 2005, I looked carefully at the socio-economic situation in the Late Bronze Age (LBA) Mediterranean, a period of expansion immediately preceding a collapse. I was not interested then to look at the issues related to the final collapse, and indeed I could not even see it from the perspective taken. During the LBA there was a visible increase in the traffic of foreign materials. People moved more intensively, also thanks to improved nautical technology. With the advent of the Iron Age, the direct evidence for materials that moved around frankly decreases sharply, but there is much indirect... Read the rest of this entry »

Publishing Data in Archaeology

As I was reviewing some data for a book, it occurred to me that archaeologists really produce a lot of data. Without managing the data of a modern site excavation, much of what I write or talk about is data-driven. I began thinking which other disciplines may be so data rich, and it occurred to me that few are. Astrophysics, from the smallest to the largest, is a discipline that probes everything and for which no conclusion can be made without empirical data. We can think of physics as the science that probes reality and matter, the physicality of our world. Biology, including both descriptive and genetic data is another science that founds itself on empirical data and produces lots of data. We can think of biology as the science that probes life. Archaeology, could therefore be intended as the science that probes the past, and more specifically the human past, to reveal and understand human history and human culture. Once you cover humans, life and the universe, little else is left... Read the rest of this entry »

More on UK Floods

Yesterday (as I write this), the 12th of February 2014 , news agencies have reported a (look-alike) gondola in the streets of an English town (Datchet). Although the stunt was very much due to some quick-thinking advertisement campaign, the images are quite poignant. See for yourself one picture here. I had mentioned the floods already a few days earlier, but flooding has not subsided yet and clearly the parallel with Venice has come to mind to others. However, Venice suffers from floods, which are a recent phenomenon in her history at the modern frequency (this also due to natural subsidence). In earlier times floods were considered as catastrophic in Venice as elsewhere. So far in 2014, Venice has been flooded almost every day, with a peak on the 31 January leaving 46% of the city underwater (source: ICPSM data). The problem in both cases (Venice and the UK) is the reluctance to build appropriate but costly defences, and plan ahead for flooding. Flooding has been managed by European ... Read the rest of this entry »

2014 Flooding in Britain and the missed dredging

January 2014 has been the wettest on record in Britain, and has caused a series of floods still on-going as I write this. Some flooding is not unusual for Britain, but things are really bad this year in a few counties, causing severe concerns for the future. Britain is not alone in having some crazy weather at the start of 2014: North America faced an unusual polar vortex which spared only the southernmost states of America. And since we are talking of floods, it seems fitting to mention that in my city of birth, Venice, high water has risen to exceptional levels, causing in the last few days of January some panic spread when it was suggested by some projections that the water could have reached 140cm, which did not happen. That level is the point where high water becomes destructive flooding and enters houses, overcoming any temporary defence, like raised paths and low barriers. It should be noted that January is typically a period of lower tides, and the only recorded floods between ... Read the rest of this entry »

On the usefulness of Archaeology

One of the most recurring questions about archaeology is what is about. I tried to address the question of what is archaeology in my student days, and perhaps I shall update my position, with particular regard to an emphasis on the scientific approach to the discipline. However, archaeology still is the study of the human past, and ultimately of who we are. An extension of that particular perspective would easily enable to address where we are heading. The roots of archaeology are within social sciences, and given its square focus on humanity, there is no escape from that classification. I have commented a few times on this blog about the recent challenge to all social sciences, especially from politicians, who see in social sciences a useless enterprise that would be better cut in face of an increasingly tougher economic situation (most recently as I write this, the NSF funding debate in the American Congress). In a way, humans studying what humans are, as archaeologists and... Read the rest of this entry »

Crazy about Technology

Once upon a time, people saw new technology with diffidence. Today, the mobile phone and to some extent the Apple iPad (specifically that brand and group of models) have become status symbols and most people believe it is one of the most important and used accessories in their life. Status symbols, material or immaterial, have existed in all human societies at least since the Neolithic. Figurines of Venuses suggest that fertile women we appreciated even before, so that having many healthy children could be considered as a sign of status. In fact, status symbols are anything that can be difficult to attain (because expensive in economic value in modern times, or because valuable according to different scales of value in earlier times, such as healthy kids in the Palaeolithic, when they were scarce). The link between mobile devices and status symbols is hardly new. Yet, I suggest some reflections here, that are hopefully original or at least less common. My main observation is that the... Read the rest of this entry »

Humanities postgraduates have a future, says Google

Dr Damon Horowitz (Google) made the first positive comment on the employability of postgraduate PhDs in humanities (any track) in a long while. Given that he is in one of the leading world companies, this hopefully will help re-shape the job market, providing new confidence to many people. It has always been known to the interested ones that technical skills alone cannot drive growth and support creativity and new ideas. Moore's laws of microprocessors is very mathematical and it has supported so far the general idea of growth in current world economy (growth only by further technological advances or more generally keeping going forward without any change), but as natural resources are limited and technological advances in one area cannot continue forever at the same pace, change is also important. Change means creativity as well as understanding of humans beyond the immediate, and humanities postgraduates can be very successful in those areas. Finally, somebody linked to IT and... Read the rest of this entry »