Where in the hell am I?

April 10, 2014

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: BBQ

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , — John @ 8:45 pm

Well, the SAAs are only 2 weeks away, so I assume everyone has made their travel and lodging arrangements and is thinking about eating and parties. I know I am, and I live there! So we’ll ramp this blog back up and try and cover all the food and drink and entertainment basics in time for you to enjoy the SAAs in Austin to their fullest!

When you come to Austin, there are two things you pretty much have to eat at some point: BBQ and tacos. These are the things that everyone has already probably started telling you about. The things where, if you go back and tell people you were in Austin, they’re gonna say “Oh, did you have BBQ and tacos (maybe even breakfast tacos)?”, and you’re going to want to say “hell yes I did!”

Of course Austin is a big city now, covering a lot of area, so I’ll focus on options pretty close to the convention center, As in a mile or so walking distance, after all we’re archaeologists, we’re used to walking!

For now, let’s start with barbecue. As a note, Central Texas BBQ focuses on the “Texas Trinity”, which is brisket, pork ribs, and sausage. They should be slow smoked, and sauce is considered something that is an add-on, not a part of the BBQ. Brisket (in my ideal) comes with the bark on (the crusty exterior where the seasoning is), and can be ordered lean/dry or fatty/moist. Try some by itself, and then make a fold using the pickles, onions, and white bread that comes with it.

Lucky for you, four of the best BBQ options in Austin are within walking distance! Don’t take my word for it, check the BBQ Snob’s Top 50 in Texas list (although technically Mickelthwait is #51).

In no particular order:

Franklin Barbecue– 900 E. 11th

aka #1 on the list, winner of many awards and accolades, the best brisket in the world. Seriously amazing, and my favorite (sorry Tom and Mark), but it comes with a price: THE LINE. If you want to eat Franklin BBQ, which opens at 11 am, you will need to be in line by 9 am, and maybe as early as 8 on the weekends. If you’re not there by 11 at the latest, you probably won’t get food (or at least brisket, which is the whole point). If you are near the back, you might not eat until 1 or later. Yes, 4-5 hours in line. You can BYOB, bring a chair, and they also sell beer in line. It’s a nice place to meet people. BUT, you will basically be sacrificing a good chunk of one day of the SAAs to eat there.

Mickelthwait Craft Meats – 1309 E Rosewood Avenue

Down the road from Franklin, one of the many great food trailers we have in Austin. There is sometimes a line around opening (11 am) to noon, especially on weekends, but not long and moves pretty fast. Tom has the best beef rib in Austin, great brisket and pulled pork and amazing ribs. The sausage, however, is their specialty. They’re handmade from Tom’s recipes, and may include things like lamb, duck, and pork belly. You won’t usually know until you get there. They also have my favorite sides, including jalapeno cheese grits! Finally, have a homemade whoopie pie to finish your meal. They’re BYOB, and there’s a convenience store practically next door. Also a great outdoor seating area of picnic tables on a nice day. Last, but not least, they stay open later on Wednesday through Saturday (as late as 8, or until they sell out) so dinner there is an option.

John Mueller Meat Co. – 2500 E 6th St

John Mueller is a legend in Austin BBQ, both for his meats and his brusque demeanor. His BBQ trailer is on east 6th, closer to the bars (but past them). He’s also well known for his beef rib (and refused to enter the Austin Chronicle Beef Rib competition) and brisket. I have to admit, I’ve only had his food once, and that was catered at a tailgate so not the way it was intended. But he has his devoted fans and consistently ranks among the best in Texas. Also note that John Mueller stays open until 6 (or until sold out), so they are a late afternoon option as well. I think they sell beer there?

la Barbecue – 1200 E 6th St.

They call themselves “Cuisine Texicana” (see the webpage). They are the closest place to the Convention Center (worth eating) and right in the middle of the EastSide bar crawl. There is an interesting history here: La is owned by John Mueller’s sister LeAnn, and John was the original cook (he doesn’t want to be called pit boss) at what was called JMuellers. At some point, they stole (my words) John Lewis from Franklin, and then LeAnn fired John, which lead to this place being called la, and John opening his trailer. Then, la moved from their South First St location (closer to my house) onto East Sixth. ANYWAY, I’ve actually only had La once, when it was JMueller, and I don’t know who was the cook that day but it was excellent but not amazing and maybe a little overseasoned. Another place constantly ranked high with diehard fans, and also a close lunch option during the meetings (another place open 11 am till sold out).

And a place I’ve heard about and gets good buzz, but haven’t been at all is Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ, on 600 West 6th Street behind Star Bar. One nice thing about here is that they’re open late (mostly bar hours to feed the hungry drunks of west Austin). Another is that you can enjoy BBQ, or tacos, or both (they have a brisket taco). Looking at the menu, I might even try this by the time the SAAs roll around, even if it means going into yuppie bro-ville. And, speaking of tacos, the next entry (hopefully on Friday) will cover the other favorite food of Austin: TACOS.

Some final notes on BBQ.

People might mention Salt Lick. If you have a car and want a Texas-y place in a beautiful Hill Country setting (and BYOB) then you might consider a dinner at Salt Lick. But the food there is average. It’s an experience place, not a gastronomical delight.

The Iron Works is right by the convention center. Convenience is the only thing it has going. It’s not good.

Stubb’s is a huge place on River on the edge of the entertainment district, and has a huge outdoor music venue and smaller indoor place. They sell great sauces at the grocery store, and you might stop by HEB and pick up a bottle of theirs, and some Franklin sauce too. But the barbecue is average at best. You can do better nearby, especially at lunch.

There are BBQ trailers set up around downtown catering to the bar crowds. I’ve never had any. The smoke smells good, and if you’re out at 11 pm and craving a chopped or sliced beef sandwich you might give them a try. But no guarantees.

March 26, 2014

National Geographic use metal detectors, find new low

Filed under: archaeology — John @ 8:35 am

Wow, and I thought the American versions of these shows were awful…

conflict antiquities

In what may be the most grotesque Third Reich-themed “edutainment”/”infotainment” show yet, National Geographic Channels International and ClearStory have filmed Nazi War Diggers. It is not about sappers. In this programme, you can watch metal-detecting antiquities dealers perform ‘human bone removal’ – ‘hunt for relics and bodies’, the ‘remains of soldiers from both sides’. National Geographic has urgent ethical and legal questions to answer.

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March 24, 2014

10 years ago my Grampy passed

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , — John @ 9:28 pm

My aunt posted on Facebook this morning that it was 10 years ago today that my Grampy, Elbert Brubaker, died. He was my grandfather on my mothers side, and spent almost all of his adult life as a farmer in southwestern Ohio, around the town of Gratis.

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According to the search function, I’ve mentioned him twice before on this blog. Once was a reference to wearing one of his “gimme” hats in the field. The other was actually a brief reference to his death, and the fact that I was at field school in Belize when it happened. I made a brief reference on my old Livejournal, a couple of days after it happened (not linking there). For some reason, I really feel like I’ve written the longer story before, but I sure can’t find it, so here it goes while it’s on my mind.

I was working at my second field school, doing the spring 2004 semester at the Programme for Belize Archaeological Program at the PFB Ecoreserve. We were roughly two months into the 3 month season, and I wasn’t very happy. There’s no sense in going into the reasons now.

Around 10:30 or so in the morning, on Wednesday March 24, 2004, we were out on the site, about 5 minutes from the field camp. It was really a pretty normal day, until Dr. Valdez showed up out of nowhere with a serious look on his face and says, “John, I need to talk to you privately.” Well, I figured the worst, that I had finally done something to piss him off enough to send me home. Or maybe he decided that he had to do something about the barely surreptitious relationship that was going on. Either way, I figured I was toast.

So I was caught off-guard when he said “John, I’m sorry to tell you that your mother just called, and your grandfather passed away this morning.” He offered to take me in to town so that I could call her, and make travel arrangements, and assured me that someone would take me into Belize City and pick me up. I was stunned. I had honestly forgotten that my Grampy had severe cancer, and had already lived months longer than the initial 6-month frame he had been given.

I went back to the site and told a couple of my friends what had happened, then packed my stuff and went back to camp. We got to the place in town where we used the phone and the internet (which was a new feature in Blue Creek in 2004), and I called my mom and told her I was going to come to the funeral. She told me not to worry about it, but it wasn’t an option for me. Then I called the ticket desk at the Belize City airport and got to talk with the nicest, most helpful woman who went way out of her way to make sure I got home as soon as possible, leaving early the next day.

After this was done, I returned to the camp. It was only about 12-12:30 at this point, meaning no one would be back from the field for a few hours. Rather than sit alone being sad at the camp, I decided I wanted to go back out on site, where I would be with my friends and others, and have something to help occupy my mind. So I walked back out and joined back in the dig.

Unfortunately, within about 20 minutes I got bit on the hand by a Doctor fly. Before that, the bites had hurt a lot and swelled up briefly, but went away quickly. This time, for whatever reason, my hand started swelling really badly. Within a couple of minutes, it was the size of a small boxing glove, or like the gloves that MMA fighters wear. It was also hot, and hurt. I couldn’t dig, and I was on the verge of losing it.

I was basically ordered back to camp, where I took a dose of the ol’ Benadryl and slept the rest of the afternoon. The swelling went down in my hand, but it still was sore and not 100% back to normal size. I ate, and packed what things I needed to take with me to Ohio. This was going to be a bit of a shock, since I mostly had dirty field clothes and some casual clothes more suited for a tropical climate like the jungles of Belize, rather than the early spring chill of Ohio.

The next morning I was to the airport, and on my way. There wasn’t a huge turn-around time between when I landed in Houston and my connecting flight to Ohio, and Customs stood in between. I don’t know if it’s just Houston, or if it was a particular circumstance involving a lot of international flights landing at once, but Customs took forever. I was in line, staring at the clock, watching the minutes tick away, on the verge of tears. I finally got through with no time to spare, and took off in a sprint for my gate.

I’ve certainly run faster, and longer, but not that fast for that long. I got to the gate right as the door was closing, and tears started running down my face. I told the attendant that I was on my way to my grandfather’s funeral, that i was coming from Belize and that Customs took forever. Whether it was just kindness and sympathy, or the tears, she opened the door and I basically collapsed in my seat, physically and emotionally exhausted.

I wrote back in 2007, “These occasions are weird, because it’s a sad time, but it’s also something like a family reunion and so everyone is usually pretty happy to see each other for the first time in a while.” That’s been my experience anyway, and that’s kinda what it was like when I landed in Ohio and walked out to my family waiting for me. There were tears, but more smiles and laughs. Sadness and joy coexisted, almost comfortably.

I was actually able to find a nice set of clothes and dress shoes at a thrift store in Dayton, along with some warmer clothes and a couple of fun t-shirts. I ended up heading back to Belize about 5 pounds heavier and with an extra suitcase, and eventually finished the field season before embarking on what would be my career as a Texas archaeologist.

January 28, 2014

Blogging Archaeology #blogarch Carnival 2014: Best and Worst

Here it is, late January. I’m on a 4-hour weather delay at work, as the Austin roads are iced over and there are scores of accidents and closures. I have on April March and Los Cincos, my go-to “gray, wet, and cold” weather album. Seems as good a time as any to write my January post for Doug’s Blogging Archaeology 2014 Carnival.

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Click here for a link to a summary of the December responses, which was on “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”. At the bottom of the page, Doug has the January question: “What are your best (or if you want your worst) post(s) and why? Compare and contrast your different bests/worsts.”

As Doug mentioned in the comments to my December post, I basically anticipated (and already answered) this question:

“My stats are pretty depressing, even when I was blogging pretty regularly. I have less than 15,000 total views. My most popular post, which  detailed some of the section 106 process and talked about how sites are both a dream and a nightmare, has 390 views. My favorite post has 113. I have gotten a lot of recent views for my Rising Star Expedition post, helped in part by Twitter promotion and retweets”

So my most viewed post is a pretty good one, and I’m happy that it has so many views. In terms of using my blog for outreach and public archaeology, it’s an excellent example of what CRM archaeologists do, and what our discoveries can mean for our clients. I felt like I did a good job of sharing the excitement of discovery and the disappointment most CRM archaeologists get knowing that finding a cool site doesn’t mean you get to dig on it (and for the sites in the blog post, the client opted to do a very long, expensive directional drill underneath them as an avoidance measure). I suspect that some of the hits come from the fact that I’ve pinged back to it in several other posts, and that it was shared on Colleen’s Four Stone Hearth compendium. But maybe some came from people looking for info on Section 106.

My favorite post is named after my favorite Ice Cube song: Today was a Good Day. It describes a typical day in the field that turns into a wonderful, atypical adventure. It’s my favorite for several reasons. First of all, it was just an excellent little adventure, getting to ride around in a WWII surplus jeep with an old rodeo cowboy (spoiler, if you didn’t read the original). Secondly, I felt like it gave a sense of what kind of people you can run into in the field, and that they’re not all bad. This is especially important to me for Texas, because so much of the country has a low opinion of Texas, particularly outside of Austin. Even a lot of Austinites can be snobbish about the rest of the state. Finally, I feel like I did an excellent job of telling the story (he says immodestly), especially once I remembered to add the punchline. I suppose I should also add that that particular day was probably the first good day for me in weeks, following a terrible stretch of fieldwork that almost broke me AND then getting separated from my now ex-wife.

My worst post could be any of the placeholders I put up promising to blog more soon, and then not following up. One might think these would motivate me to actually post more.

But in my December post, I specifically mentioned a post I made that was a little more emotional and personal than usual, and directly referenced a co-worker (although not by name). It related to concepts of masculinity, and feeling like I was occasionally slighted for not being traditionally masculine (in the big strapping lad sense) and treated differently for my slight stature (even though I’m pretty much at the median height and below weight). The bad part was that another co-worker saw it and replied, and defended the other person and essentially said I was making a big deal out of nothing (my interpretation, not necessarily their intention). It made things a little rougher and more awkward at work at a time when I was already struggling. It also reminded me that I needed to be careful what I said about work and co-workers, which essentially made me stop blogging during my really negative stretch at work (when realistically I really could have used the outlet). I didn’t link back to the original post because I’m over it, I’m sure you can find it if you really want.

Looking forward to next month’s question! Meanwhile, stay tuned for more of my “Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014”

 

January 17, 2014

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: Lodging and getting around

Filed under: archaeology, archeology — Tags: , , , , — John @ 11:34 am

Hi y’all!

Note: we say y’all in Texas. Very few people, besides Aggies, say “Howdy”. There’s your language lesson for the week 🙂

After doing some research, I thought it might be best to combine lodging and transportation in a single post. This is because most of the lodging options near the convention center (ie walking distance) are pretty expensive, and I was tasked with finding cheaper lodging. Note that, as often happens, most of the downtown hotels have jacked their prices up during the convention weekend. I should also note that the downtown hotels are never really cheap (besides the La Quinta, which SAA took over for student housing), and the trend has been to build upscale/”hip” boutique hotels in the area.

LODGING:

First, if you are a member of Hosteling International, and/or not opposed to staying in a hostel, there is one located walking distance from the convention center, on Lakeshore Boulevard: http://www.hihostels.com/dba/hostel060035.en.htm?himap=Y#book. I’m surprised that this actually has availability that weekend, so maybe jump on that (and I may have to edit this in a week). I have never stayed here but have driven by it a number of times, and it seems to have decent ratings.

A number of people have mentioned finding a room or place from sites like AirBnB or HomeAway. I have never used these services (and it looks like there is a lot of overlap of listings between the 2) and don’t consider my listing of these any type of endorsement. There are some places walking distance, or easy mass transit distance from the convention center listed. I wouldn’t stay further south than William Cannon (and really, not further than Ben White Boulevard/290 West), further west than Lamar Boulevard or MOPAC (Loop 1), further east than Chicon Ave (and only in the immediate downtown area), and further north than St. Johns (which is kinda pushing it). Please check the “Getting around” section below for more details!

UPDATE 1/27/14: THE AUSTIN MOTEL IS NOW COMPLETELY BOOKED FOR THE SAA 2014 WEEKEND. One pretty cool place that I actually HAVE stayed, that is walking distance to the Convention Center is The Austin Motel. This place is something of an Austin icon (and not just for the phallic sign). You’ll have to call to check on availability (and it’s entirely possible it’s already booked solid), but there are some single rooms for under $100 a night, and if you have a roommate there are lots of two bed options. Each room has it’s own theme. It’s also located on funky/hip South Congress, so lots of restaurants and bars and shopping in the area.

Another place I’m familar with is Habitat Suites. This place isn’t walking distance (but on a transit line), and not really in an ideal location (by a failing mall) but it’s a great hotel, and a room for 1 is $99/night during the conference (or one with a sofa bed for $109). One proviso: if you stay out after midnight, you’ll be taking a cab here. On the plus side, they have an amazing free breakfast!!

Some other options (between 90 and 130 bucks per night before taxes) are around the UT Campus. I have no idea how nice those places are, but they’re all the lower scale “name” hotels: Days Inn and Rodeway Inn. Both are walkable, but not the nicest walk (along the highway) and I can’t vouch for the safety of this walk. There are buses that can get you close (again, check the section of Getting Around).

After that, you’re looking at the cluster of hotels on the SW side of the IH-35 and US-290 intersection, or along IH-35 south of the river. There are a range of options, from Motel 6 to Embassy Suites. If these places don’t offer shuttles (and I can’t tell/don’t want to look at every one of them), you will likely be taking a taxi or walking a bit to get to a bus stop.

GETTING AROUND AUSTIN IN GENERAL:

This section will be important in helping to choose lodging.

First, as I stated above: I wouldn’t stay further south than William Cannon (and really, not further than Ben White Boulevard/290 West), further west than Lamar Boulevard or MOPAC (Loop 1), further east than Chicon Ave (and only in the immediate downtown area), and further north than St. Johns (which is kinda pushing it). Anywhere further than that and you will need to rent a car or pay for cabs. And you might have to do some cabbing anyway, because…

Austin’s dirty secret is that we have below standard public transportation (although it’s getting better), particularly when it comes to late night travel. Particularly for a progressive city that is now the 11th largest in the US. For a city that calls itself the Live Music Capitol of the World (still justifiably so) and promotes itself as an entertainment destination, if you stay out late and don’t want to drive/don’t have a car, you may be screwed or have to shell out some money. There are a limited number of late night buses on the weekends. These fill up fast, don’t go everywhere, and you may show up at 2am and not get on one until 4am. We have trains that run to the suburbs, and to a couple of the hip new developments. These also don’t run late.

Here’s the link to the Capital Metro website: http://www.capmetro.org/default.aspx. From here, you can look at maps and schedules, and plan your ride. For funsies, go ahead and enter your possible hotel/room location and the Convention Center, and check on various to and from trips, at different times. As an example, there is no bus that can get you within 3/4 mile of the campus area motels after midnight on the weekend.

So cabs. Here is a link to taxi fare info for Austin: http://www.yellowcabaustin.com/fare_info.aspx. From here, you can go to a fare generator. This should be very helpful in figuring out transportation costs from various lodging options. The trip from the Convention Center to the campus area hotels costs $10.53 (including the $1 surcharge for trips after 9pm, and not counting tip). It’s $16.50 to the hotels around 290.

One possible option is to use Car2Go, which is a Smart Car share program. You have to be a member, and please don’t do this if you are intoxicated! But, for trips within the center city and even to the edges of what can be considered the urban core (alas, my own house is just south) it could be an excellent option for getting around relatively affordably.

GETTING AROUND DOWNTOWN:

Downtown Austin is very walkable, especially for us CRM archaeologists used to walking 5-7 miles a day with heavy packs (sorry, a little good-natured rib at my academic counterparts). I consider anything within about 2 miles to be walking distance.

First, let’s talk safety. I consider Austin a pretty safe city, especially for being around a million people. Downtown is also very safe, although of course crimes do occur. You’re more likely to have to deal with drunk college students than muggers, but it happens. Click here for a link to the official 2012 crime statistics from the city website. The downtown zip code is 78701. The numbers are high, but remember this is a high activity entertainment district. The best advice is that which applies to any city. Be street smart: be aware of your surroundings, try and stay in well lit areas, travel in groups when you can. Once you’re away from the convention center or the immediate area: TAKE OFF YOUR BADGE. Especially late at night. Put it back on at the bar/restaurant if you want to meet people.

If you don’t feel like walking, or want to do something different, there are options. First, downtown is full of pedicabs. You tell the operator where you want to go and they’ll tell you how much it costs. Most have music and a sense of fun. It’s a good option to get someplace in a hurry, or just take a load off your feet, but it’s not super cheap.

A newer option (and something I haven’t tried yet) is the Austin B-Cycle bike share program. You can get an annual membership, OR purchase a daily or weekly pass (probably the best option for the SAA goer). You can ride the bike around and return it to any station (this is the critical part, it must be returned to a station to end the service time); the first 30 minutes is free. For getting around the immediate downtown vicinity, this seems like it might be a great option.

SO…that’s a lot of basic information! Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer, or shoot me a tweet at twitter.com/archaeocore (you can use that handy little widget on the side too)!

January 6, 2014

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: Introduction

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , — John @ 4:57 pm

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In a little less than four months, a bunch of archaeologists will be invading my hometown of Austin Texas for the 2014 Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting. There are a lot of archaeologists here in the Live Music Capital of the World, but I think I may be the only blogger. So I suppose I have an obligation to provide an Austinite’s Guide to the the SAA 2014 meetings. Besides, I love this town and want to highlight some of the great bars, restaurants, and music venues we have here.

First, I should probably do some reflexive archaeology and discuss my own biases:

– My own musical tastes tend towards punk and indie rock, with a healthy dose of old soul and hip-hop. I hate Stevie Ray Vaughan and the whole Austin blues thing. I love old honky-tonk country but don’t know or care much for most of what is Texas country music. i suspect some of the “official” tourist guides to the city and the live music scene can cover that stuff for you.

– I’m an omnivore and I like to eat delicious foods, but I also loathe the term “foodie”. I like cheap, good food with an occasional monetary indulgence. I think that describes my drinking habits as well. I also don’t like Shiner Bock (but I love Shiner Ruby Redbird more than any beer!).

– When you’ve lived here as long as I have (and been a pretty social guy) you get to know a lot of people. Some of the places and bands I’ll recommend are friends of mine, but I also promise you I’m not going to recommend something just because of my friendships.

So, with that in mind, I also want to know what YOU would like to know about! I’ll try and cover lodging first, since that’s most timely (although I don’t know much). There will be multiple bar and food posts, a guide to getting around, a guide to music venues, and some places to spend some money while you’re here (ie books, records, toys, etc).

Please comment with any thing you’d like to see, and please feel free to ask me questions! If there’s something I don’t know, I’ll endeavor to find someone who does! 

December 30, 2013

My 2013 in review

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , — John @ 2:42 pm

2013 has been a very big year for me professionally, and a challenging one personally.

I started the year, as I had since May 2004, at the Austin office of SWCA Environmental Consultants (I’m honestly not sure if I ever said exactly who I worked for!). I was writing up the results of a survey I had led in Laredo just before the holidays. It included a large, typical South Texas deflated campsite, with lots of diagnostic artifacts and stone tools but also eroded with no potential for significant buried deposits. The surface was a palimpsest of several thousand years worth of occupations. Neat, but no potential for significant new information.

After finishing that up, work shifted to east Texas and a Caddo site. I can’t say what the project was or where the site was located, but it was an unanticipated discovery. Sometimes, even though you’ve looked hard and done a thorough survey, you can miss something and be surprised. We excavated a few test units in a easy-to-dig fine sandy matrix, and determined the site was likely a small Caddo hamlet. After the first round of testing, we recommended further excavations, and I started on the artifact analysis and writeup.

I was struggling some with work. I had gotten severely burned out in 2012, and was questioning whether I wanted to continue in archaeology. In particular, long stretches in the field (I was gone for month-long stretches in July and September 2012) had nearly broken me. My supervisor was aware of this and tried to help me, and one thing he did was forward me job openings at state agencies, which would require less travel and keep me based in Austin.

March came and a new project appeared: construction monitoring in Galveston. I was chosen to spearhead the work and do at least the first couple of sessions. I drove to Galveston to meet with the client, pick up some schematics and figure out their schedule. Then, I took a week off to enjoy South by Southwest.

At the end of December, I had applied for a job at State Parks, but hadn’t heard anything back, and had given up hope. I assumed someone else had gotten in, since it had been months. But over South By I got a call asking if I was available to interview for the job the following Monday! I was excited and nervous, and after enjoying the Golden Boys at Side Bar on the last Sunday of SXSW, I went home to hydrate and rest for my interview.

I was so nervous, but I felt like I did a really good job on the interview. I had answers for all of their questions, and they seemed to like my attitudes towards report writing. After the interview, I went back to my office and prepared for Galveston, but I felt like maybe I had a chance. That Friday, I saw the people at the CTA meetings and again got a sense that I had done well.

Monday, one week after interviewing, I got a call offering me the job! I accepted, but there was one minor hitch: they wanted me to start the following Monday, rather than with 2 weeks notice, because they had a field session scheduled.

SWCA very kindly accepted, and on April 1 I started with the Archeology Survey team at Texas Parks and Wildlife, in a job that came as both a raise and a promotion. On April 2 I left with the other members of the team and the Archeology lab to spend a week in the Lower Pecos (I still can’t say exactly where or what). It was the 7 of us in the middle of a huge area, staying in a lodge and bunkhouse, an hour away from the nearest sizable town. I got to know my co-workers very well, very quickly!

Since then, I’ve done two sessions in the Lower Pecos, responded to a looting incident at McKinney Falls, helped with the archeology session at a Junior Ranger day camp at McKinney Falls (including a tour of some of the park’s sites and an atlatl demonstration), and surveyed part of a park near Beaumont. I’ve also been given my own project near Boerne, and we’ve done three sessions there so far. And, I’ve also started the report for a survey done at Bastrop State Park following the 2011 wildfires, including some stone tool analysis.

I’ve also tried to introduce new forms of outreach to my group. I wrote about my job for the Day of Archaeology, which was well-received by my bosses. Some of my photos have been used by the Parks and Wildlife Instagram page. As a result of this, plus stating my own interest in more opportunities, my bosses arranged for me to be involved with the TPWD social media team, something I’ll be more involved with in 2014!

 

Personally, there have been lots of ups-and-downs. A long-term relationship ended, and a hopeful summer romance ended in heartbreak. I can’t blame it all on archaeology, but I do know that it’s hard to date someone who is gone a lot, even if it is much less often with my new job. I recently started dating someone new, so we’ll see where that goes, especially with some longer field sessions upcoming (out of respect for the people involved, I won’t say more, as I know that some of them will likely read this).

On a lighter, more upbeat note, having less field time and a more predictable schedule allowed me to adopt two adorable kittens, Wendy and Ruby! I feel so bad when I’m gone from them, but they seem to take it in stride. They’re extremely social, so they follow and play with the folks who come by to check on them when I’m gone; this makes it a little better for me. But they sure do seem to grow a lot every time I’m gone!

I started a new blog devoted more to music, which is my real passion in life. Much like this blog, it is not updated as regularly as I had hoped.

I made a lot of new friends and only lost a couple to moves and none to death, thank goodness. I saw a lot of great bands, and finally am able to check both New Order and The Cure off of my concert bucket list. Finally, I didn’t miss nearly as many shows as I have in the past due to fieldwork.

Finally, I had let myself get out of shape and put on a bit of bad weight. With the start of the new fiscal year in September, I decided to make a change and get control of that. Since then, I’ve dropped 15 pounds and 4% body fat while also adding muscle. I had to buy new jeans. I’m still trying to add more muscle and tone, but I feel much better physically and mentally, and I’m pretty proud of myself.

December 4, 2013

Blogging Archaeology 2014 Carnival: Good, Bad, Ugly

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , , , , — John @ 1:44 pm

blogging-archaeology

It’s month 2 of the #blogarch Blogging Archaeology Carnival 2014, leading up to the Blogging Archaeology session at the 2014 SAA meetings in my hometown of Austin, Texas. Note that this session will be on Saturday morning, and I’ll see what I can do about having some coffee for everyone!

The first month had an overwhelming response, now over 60 posts. Some new blogs were created for the carnival, and some inactive ones revived (ahem, kinda like mine). It seems like there are either a lot more archaeology blogs now than there were 3 years ago, during the first #blogarch carnival, or that Doug did a better job of spreading the word and recruiting people. You can see the summary of the first month’s action, as well as the December question, by clicking HERE or this link: http://dougsarchaeology.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/blogging-archaeology-blogarch-all-of-the-responses-to-why/

December’s theme is an excellent one: The good, the bad, and the ugly of blogging. In some ways, it’s a follow-up to November. Discussion points include Good: “anything and everything positive about blogging…You could even share what you hope blogging will do for you in the future.” Bad: “What are your disappointments with blogging? What are your frustrations? What do you hate about blogging? What would you like to see changed about blogging?” Ugly: “Your worst experiences with blogging- trolls, getting fired, etc.”

For some extra fun, enjoy this playlist (click it! click it!) I made of some reggae, rock steady, and dub jams inspired by The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and other spaghetti western flicks.

Here we go!

The Good –

  • I’ve had a chance to share a few excellent stories from the field (although when I looked at my site stats, none of those are among my most viewed posts). In some ways, it was nice to document them this way, so I can remember some of the details later. I think the few people that have read them have enjoyed them.
  • I’ve had a couple of opportunities to answer questions for people about CRM archaeology, what and how and why we do it. I’m heartened that my most popular single post is about this.
  • I’ve been able to share some semi-fleshed out thoughts and opinions and participate in the debate about some of the hot topics in the world of archaeology, such as crowdfunding and #freearchaeology.
  • I’ve gotten to attend one SAA conference and will be attending another, where I’ll continue to meet awesome new people as well as some amazing online friends in the flesh.
  • I was able to participate in the Day of Archaeology for the last three years, and my post this year got a really good response from my bosses and people in general…which leads me to
  • Positive responses at work to my blog, my Twitter, and my Instagram have helped convince my bosses to recommend me as a contributor to the social media group at my job, although they don’t have any blog set up…yet 🙂

The bad:

  • As always, feel like I’m talking to a wall most of the time. Very rare comments, although sometimes I get Twitter or Facebook or IRL comments and feedback.
  • My stats are pretty depressing, even when I was blogging pretty regularly. I have less than 15,000 total views. My most popular post, which  detailed some of the section 106 process and talked about how sites are both a dream and a nightmare, has 390 views. My favorite post has 113. I have gotten a lot of recent views for my Rising Star Expedition post, helped in part by Twitter promotion and retweets
  • I just have a hard time keeping up, and it makes me feel guilty. Believe it or not, I put a lot of time into these posts! Even a very brief one might take me over an hour of thinking, writing, rewriting, finding links to make it more interesting. This makes the “talking to the wall” aspect that much worse.
  • And this can make me feel, well, a little worthless (for want of a better word), I’m putting an awful lot of myself out here.
  • The old Impostor Syndrome. I don’t do real research, I don’t keep up very well with the research, I’m afraid to take speak up or take a strong stand on issues related to my actual area of work. There are also some other topics I have really strong feelings about that I’m afraid to blog about/take a public stance on, for fear of losing my job or future opportunities (I’ll gladly talk about them with you in person, though).

The Ugly:

  • While I didn’t get fired, I did have to make private delete one of my best, most well-received blog posts, that also happened to be topical to the day it was posted. One of the client representatives saw it and demanded it be taken down and that I not mention/blog about that particular project. Not only that, but as a result one of my old company’s offices (not the one I was based in) banned their people from blogging about work, period.
  • I posted something a little more personal and emotional than maybe I should have, and one of my (now ex-) coworkers saw it and commented in a way that wasn’t entirely positive or reassuring. This turned me off of blogging for a while, because I feel like one of the strengths of this blog and my writing is the attached, personal element of it. I mean, I could just post news story links with a couple of dry comments.
  • See Impostor Syndrome, above.

November 26, 2013

Expressing my love for The Rising Star Expedition

Filed under: archaeology — John @ 3:07 pm

The Rising Star Expedition is/was a hastily assembled project to investigate and recover ancient hominid fossils from a cave in South Africa. They just finished their last field day for this first season. I haven’t been following something happening in South Africa this closely since the 2010 World Cup! (Okay, confession, I followed World Cup a little more closely, mostly because it involved drinking while eating breakfast with friends and cheering for the USA…).

And yes, by the way, I did say “FOLLOW” this project! One of the most amazing elements of the Rising Star Expedition is that they’ve opened up the process to the public through blogs and Twitter and Youtube. The official blog (which i already linked above) is http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/blog/rising-star-expedition/ and the official Twitter feed is @RisingStarExped. Both are worth spending some time. But what is even better is that the project is letting (and seemingly encouraging) the scientists and cavers/excavators to guest blog and have their own Twitter accounts. So, we don’t just get an official perspective/summary of what is going on, but moment-to-moment insights and photos as well as many amazing glimpses of the lives and feelings of those involved. It’s basically my dream of what an archaeological project social media presence is, having this inclusive element and humanizing factor. A lot has also been made about how the 6-person excavation team are women (who I am extremely jealous of!), but that’s not something I feel qualified to comment on, other than ROCK ON!

I suspect a lot of that has to do with John Hawks, one of the preeminent science/paleoanthropology/genetics/evolution bloggers and tweeters (and also a guy who will share a pitcher of Pyramid Apricot Ale with you at the bar when no one else will give it a try). He has written and live-tweeted a lot about the project, as well as retweeting many of the others (it’s a lot to follow sometimes!). Lee Berger, the other lead scientist and National Geographic connection, also has been live-tweeting (note: follow the hashtag #risingstarexpedition to see most of the tweets by all those involved, as well as fans)

Obviously, they can’t share everything, and there’s still plenty that they don’t know. But it seems like much of this is going to be pretty Open Science, which is certainly rare in palaeoanthropology (and archaeology for that matter)! As has been said here before, and many times elsewhere, the field work is the least part of an excavation project. Over 1,000 fossils are now out of the cave and into the hands of the scientists who will make (and hopefully share) many new, amazing discoveries with the public!

So thanks to all involved with The Rising Star Expedition, science blogging and social media done right! You have a big fanboy here, and I will buy any/every one of you a drink (something better than Apricot Ale) if ever I meet you!

November 20, 2013

Blogging Archaeology 2014 Carnival Month 1: WHY?

blogging-archaeology

 

 

 

So, at the 2014 Society for American Archaeology meetings in my lovely home city of Austin, Texas, we’ll be doing another Blogging Archaeology session entitled, appropriately enough, Blogging Archaeology Again. It’s not exactly a follow-up, more of an update with new ideas and almost all new people (I may in fact be the only holdover).

Anyway, as a contribution to the discussion  Doug Rocks-Macqueen (an excellent archaeology blogger [an excellent blogger who can’t make it, read his blog here!) is running a Blogging Archaeology blog carnival. Last time, Colleen hosted one and it was a lot of fun, got some good discussion going before and at the session.

So I’ll play along again. It also helps me because I’m not good about updating, so at least there will be a monthly post by me from now until April 🙂 This is even funnier because of question 3! So here we go!!

Question 1: Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog?

I first started blogging because I liked writing and sharing my ideas and opinions. In college, I did radio and in my first run at grad school I wrote for the newspaper (entertainment section). I did a few issues of a zine after (the namesake for my other blog http://alltheragezine.wordpress.com/) and was online. So when I found out about blogs, it was something of a natural thing for me to be interested in and try out. At first, I did a personal blog and enjoyed that, met a lot of new people in Austin and elsewhere that way.

When I back to grad school for archaeology, I would occasionally write about that on my blog (it was on Livejournal and I’m pretty sure I deleted it), and I wrote some about my first field school on there. When I went back in Spring 2004 I decided to start a blog dedicated to my field school and archaeology, partly inspired by what Colleen had started doing. First post was on January 14, 2004, right before I left. It was called Digstories and there’s probably some posts on there that were too honest or not well thought out.

I kept up with it as I moved into CRM, eventually moved the blog to a different host (the whole LJ stigma partly), and changed the name to Where in the Hell Am I, because that was one of the questions my friends would always ask me! It started with just stories, and then I would explain things to my friends who would ask specific questions about aspects of my work. I tried to develop it more as a tool for public outreach, but this somewhat coincided with me starting to be burned out on archaeology, which leads to…

Question 2: Why are you still blogging?  Have the reasons why changed since you first started blogging? Are there new reasons why you blog?

Well, I answered some of that in the paragraphs above. Sometimes I still tell stories here, and I’ve used it on occasion for outreach. Sometimes I use it to vent or discuss issues in archaeology such as #freearchaeology or machismo, which was always an element of my blogging (while trying to keep it professional). Mostly, I’ve switched to microblogging and photoblogging through Twitter and Instagram (which is what my presentation at SAA14 is about). Mostly because it’s easier and has more feedback.

I still feel guilty about not blogging more, and I honestly want to, but…

Question 3: Why have you stopped blogging?

One of the ironic things about blogging that I’ve mentioned in the past is that usually when I have lots to talk about, or good stories to share, I’m too busy from doing things to take the time to talk about them, or just too tired. As I got higher in the field hierarchy, especially with some of the pipeline projects, I had a lot to do after the fieldwork was done. It was not unusual to have a 9-10 hour field day and then 2 hours of post-field work, 6 days a week. Once I was done, I was tired and didn’t want to talk about my day again.

Also as I moved up, things got less interesting, in some ways. I was mostly running the GPS in the field, managing the techs while they did the actual digging. I was talking to clients and landowners (which could be interesting, of course). I was also doing a lot of survey report writing, which is repetitive and boring even to me. I tried to talk about analysis, but was afraid to expose my ignorance to the public and other archs.

I also had some very difficult periods in my life, and got very burned out on the field and archaeology. I always try and be positive on here, even if I don’t always succeed. When I was depressed, or hating my job, I just didn’t want to pretend on here.

Finally, my company got a couple of very large projects, with clients who were very protective and concerned about media and publicity. I started to worry about possibly getting in trouble or straight up fired for things I wrote here. And when I was mad or burned out or thought something was dumb, I DEFINITELY knew not to say so on here. Last year, I found out that even a very innocent post that doesn’t mention much of anything about a client or a project can get noticed and possibly lead to reprisals (although all I had to do was pull it and promise not to blog about or while on that job). That last thing happened right when I was thinking about getting back in to this.

And, now that I’m a public servant, I feel the same need to be extra cautious. That’s why I started a totally non-archaeology blog (which gathers as much dust as this!).

And thus ends my unsurprisingly long first contribution to the Blogging Archaeology Carnival!

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