Goliath Killed by 100 Jar Handles.

As happens regularly, the field of archeology again caught my eye this morning.  As a study of the past, we’re always pushing back the boundaries of what we know of ancient times.  This time, we now have an even earlier example of a Hebrew text from the time of King David.  Of course, we assume there were many texts and a full written history existing at that time, but this is our earliest direct physical proof of that writing.

Of course, as the pottery shard where the writing is preserved is just recently discovered, no through analysis or translation has been made.  I can accept that.  However, as usual, that leaves reporters with a desperate need to say something about the discovery when nothing has yet been researched.  So they give us a few details.  Within the text, the roots of the words judge, king, and slave have been found.  The words themselves may or may not be present in the text, but probably something vaguely related to each is present in the text.  Profound.  Even more stunning is the assertion that the text was clearly written by a trained scribe.  Really?  As opposed to the random scratchings of the illiterate masses of the time?  I mean, I knew there was a problem with graffiti back then, but really?

Of course, even though only 4% of the site has been excavated, most of the information they do have is terribly interesting.  It’s very near the supposed site of the fight between David and Goliath, and contains at least 100 jar handles of a type similar to ‘royal’ jars of the time.  The site is the oldest known fortified city of that period (meaning the other places we knew existed at that time we haven’t physically pinpointed yet).  It’s one of the few places where King David can be archaeologically investigated for that reason.  And as a city where people would be more concentrated, it has obvious potential as a means of exploring daily life at the time.

Personally, I favor an alternative translation to the Goliath myth.  A bunch of Philistines were threatening this fortified Judean city, see.  And so the local inhabitants, being fresh out of river stones, dropped jars on their heads until they left.  This, of course, was not a very noble battle, so they substituted the river story someplace outside the city.  And made the king a champion.  What’s a people without a champion, and what’s a king without great deeds?

The person who sets the tone is the one who wins.

Typically I don’t get excited about new book releases, especially if they aren’t fiction and very particularly if they are published by the MIT Press.  Not saying that the MITP hasn’t published some sell-out rousers in their day, but that my personal interests generally lead me elsewhere.  Coupled with a very basic knowledge of the hard sciences, most of the material they publish is out of my league as well as out of my general purview.  Thankfully, a recent title that caught my interest is in the soft science of psychology, which even I can get my head around.

The name of the book is Honest Signals.  Basically it’s about the way people talk to each other and the amount of gesturing they do as an indication of the outcomes of the conversations and the relationships between the people participating.  I could bore you with the details of how research on this topic was conducted and what the specific statistical results were, but I won’t.  I do have some loyalty to the MITP – you’ll have to buy the book.  But i will tell you some of the more obvious generalizations coming out of this research.

First, there is supposed to be a correlation between the correspondence of speech patterns and the way people relate.  Basically, if you talk with the same sort of rhythm in the same sort of patterns as me, I’m predisposed to like you and favor your ideas.  We’re all aware of this to a certain extent – that person who talks much slower or faster than you is hard to understand, and therefore you don’t communicate as effectively.  You lose something in the relationship.  But the degree to which correspondence of such patterns determines genuine likability is something worth considering.  The thought that a potential boss or love interest could be spoken to at a pace that would seriously positively enhance your chances at what you want is striking.

Second, there is the ‘level of physical activity as people talk’.  This isn’t quite body language, and using the term ‘gestures’ is a little too narrow.  Most of us gesture to a certain extend without looking like a ship with loose and flapping sails.  It’s unclear from the article just what impact moving around while you talk can have, but there’s obviously something there.  After all, actors, singers, and public speakers have been aware of such movement as a tool for quite some time.  In less public places, I’d be eager to see what the study concludes.

Finally, the issue of tone.  The one who dominates the tone, the one who sets and maintains it, is the one who ‘wins’.  This also seems somewhat self-evident, but the mechanism for establishing such a dominant tone remains unclear, whether or not the establishment is intentional.  It can easily be seen in ‘popular’ talk shows or court shows like Jerry Springer or the People’s Court.  The one who carries the tone, carries the crowd.  A tone could be calming as well as enraging however, and either one would work to establish dominance.

The final question, of course, is that of who comes out the victor in a case where both sides of an argument are aware of these three points and are able to use them effectively.  For myself, I think I might just read the book, or at least give further thought and observation to the ideas.  After all, I have  quite a bit of life left where all three might come in handy.

For the tin man.

There has been a fascination for us with the interaction between the mechanical and the visceral since the early popularity of L. Frank Baum’s books.  A range of characters portray the variations of what are supposedly the central issues of the two types of ‘people’.  Tik Tok, Data (from Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Adam Link (of The Outer Limits ‘I, Robot’ episode) all deal with the issue of becoming more human.  They, like humans who may want the advantages of being stronger or more durable or faster, are searching for something they don’t quite have the reach for.  Others, like David from A.I. or Andrew from Bicentennial Man, are searching for the acceptance of what they feel but others don’t see.  And some – the cyborgs – are simply seeking to regain what they have lost.  The most notable of these is the tin man, who has even lost his heart.

To a certain extent, many of us will be cyborgs in the future.  We’ll have prosthetic limbs that respond to nerve twitches in still-functioning parts of our body, or special exoskeletal devices to make us stronger or faster, or nano things in our blood to prevent disease.  We have new organs of a mechanical variety to replace the old ones as they give out.  Heck, they’re already doing it with hearts, and I have to say that the one in the article looks absolutely awesome and amazing.  But despite the replacement parts, we seem reasonably confident that we can remain ourselves.  The hope is that we can recombine in new ways, instead of stagnating, when we cheat death through more mechanical means.  I’m comfortable with that, as long as we don’t cheat life too.

MIT FEMA Trailer Project

We’re all either primate or completely commercialized.

Ok, some of you may have heard about the recent study about red making women appear sexier to men.  Duh.  I mean, did we really need a study to prove this?  Setting aside the fact that I already appear plenty sexy enough, thank you, I feel like most of us are aware that a sexy red dress is just that – sexy.

What was even more amazing were the theories posited by the researchers as to why this red color might trigger ‘the seixer’ response in men’s brains.  One theory posed by the lead researcher is societal conditioning in the form of “hearts and Valentine’s Day and lingerie and things like that, takes on a sexy meaning.”  But more primitive roots were also sited, specifically the red rumps of certain female primates during ovulation to attract males.  I don’t know about you males today, but I find the idea of a red rump as ‘sexy’ slightly disturbing.

In one sense, I think the researchers were on the right track – specifically with the mention of ‘hearts’.  In another, I think any Medieval whore (or one from the Classic period or earlier, for that matter) could shed more light on the matter.  It’s all about the blood.  Painted lips and rouged cheeks were there for a reason – a marker of a more rapidly beating, excited heart.  Passion, for most of us, comes with the flare of lust building between two people.  The ‘first flush’ of love is called that for a reason, and it usually has to do with quickening pulses and a ruddier complexion.  That’s the red I’d be concerned about.

Never again.

It is commonly held as my responsibility in my current job to answer phones.  I don’t like phones- I don’t like talking on them, I don’t like other people talking on them, and I really really wish we could throw them all away and forget they ever existed.  Sometimes as a part of my job I have to answer other people’s phones, which is particularly annoying.  Answering Corina’s phone in particular has often embroiled me in some interesting situations (no, sir I do not know where your pension has gone, let me transfer you.  No, we do not make statements to the press – let me transfer you to our news office).  But the one I got this afternoon takes the cake.

A gentleman called from Scotland trying to get in touch with a member of a twelve-man delegation.  At first, I thought his connection to Corina’s phone was entirely accidental.  The automated operater’s number at MIT is notoriously bad here at the Oven Glove.  You would think some of our technology could go towards fixing those issues, but oh no.  Besides, when you have peons to directly handle the matter, why bother?  Anyway, I thought at first that he was speaking to me due to one of the quirks of that system.  He did, after all, have an accent – Autovoice no doubt misunderstood him.

Alas, I was mistaken – it would not be such a simple immediate transfer to another department.  The gentleman in question had no idea who he wanted to talk to.  Though he did have an emergency on his hands, he had no names of anyone at the Oven Glove who the group might be visiting.  He wasn’t even all that clear as to the reason for their visit.  Of course, the man was distraught from his emergency, but he also wasn’t thinking to clearly.  No, there was not some magical overlord who kept track of all the Scots who happened to be in Cambridge at a particular time.  No, transferring him to a dean was not going to help the situation – unless he could maybe tell me WHICH dean I could transfer him to, possibly the dean of the department the group might be visiting?

To be fair, he did know some things about the visit.  He knew the group worked in ‘development’.  He knew which dates they were travelling and the flight information for that travel.  He did not have the name of their hotel, but there couldn’t be that many hotels in Cambridge, right?  Ok, so now we just triangulate which hotel in a 5 block radius it could be by taking into account when the flight got in and when they called from the hotel…Unfortunately, I left my triangulation software in the OTHER computer.

Thankfully, I did manage to weasel out a few gems from the situation.  I found out that yes, there was a research and development conference on campus yesterday and today.  I even found out where it was being held and which office was involved.  I should have just transfered the man at that point against his will.  However, I made the mistake of asking him to write down a number in case we got disconnected.  No, he really didn’t want to talk to someone on campus, he just wanted the hotel where they were staying.  As he said, we weren’t really sure this was even the right conference anyway.  And if he calls all the hotels in Cambridge, eventually something will work.  So, after all that, I gave him the names of several hotels in the area and sent him on his merry way.  I do wish him luck.  But, as in many cases, I think he and I both would’ve been better served if we’d taken a deep breath and really examined the realities of the situation.  He would discover that a group of 12 people in a city of 7.13 square miles are generally hard to pick out.  I would discover that it’s generally hard to reason with people who are legitimately worried and frustrated.  Alas, maybe next time.

King Solomon’s Copper.

I’m not really up on my Biblical history.  This could be a flaw in my education, or perhaps just in my interest.  Somehow, the lineages of the Kingdom of Edom and when the Israelites were where don’t really pique my interest.  Despite this, occasionally I wish I knew a little bit more about the timeline, mostly in places where it would improve my knowledge of certain stories or would help in trivia games.

One of the areas where I have limited knowledge is about the ‘real’ reign of King Solomon.  This is probably partially due to H. Rider Haggard and various associated movies.  Why did the king bury bunches of treasure in a mine?  Who ends up dying as they leave?  Was there a previous lost love?  Is it a friend who is taken in the unfairness of African life?  Does a safari end in melancholy?

Well, archeology is trying to answer some of those questions.  A copper mine has recently been dated to the time of King Solomon.  It is possible that this mine, therefore, had some connection to the king and may even have been one of ‘King Solomon’s Mines’.  However, both the Bible (which is one of few written sources we have) and early archeologist linked the area to the Edomites at the time the site was dated to.  So to me this indicates that despite it being during Solomon’s rule, it was probably not under his direct control.  Edom was basically a vassal state, but I’m guessing that any mines in question would have been the governor of Edom’s, rather than Solomon’s.

However, that’s niether here nor there.  The real question is, how far will fact follow fiction?  In this particualr set of mines (which are probably not the only ones for an entire kingdom), is there any ‘buried treasure’?  or was that all relegated to other mines?  is there romance, or monumental loss, or ideal friendship that is about to unfold in this story of rediscovery?  And what about the Queen of Sheba?

The way we build our homes.

When I was growing up, there were certain objects that remained a presence in my life.  There was the antique spinning wheel of some ancestor which could be set in endless looping motion with a slight pump on the foot treadle.  there was the ironwood eagle that was always silk-smooth to the touch, and the dolphin mobile which glinted reflected outdoor light.  There was the hurricane lamp with its strangely ornate key that controlled the wick.  Some of these items were more or less monetarily valuable, but they were the things that my senses seemed to be drawn to at that time.

My family is a family of pack rats.  I myself seem to acquire a more ungainly collection of possessions each year I’m alive, though I try to limit them.  I throw things away now.  But I am also concerned about consumption.  I’m worried about buying too much of what I don’t need even more than I’m worried about saving it.  And while I plan to live in my current apartment no more than a year, I dread the idea of living quarters also becoming disposable.

There is a trend in the area of building design that has been rising abroad for some time and is starting to gain a slight foothold in the U.S.  This change could be called ‘adaptable’ or ‘mobile’ or ‘transformable’ housing, but the word that most comes to mind for me is ‘temporary’.  While I can appreciate the cost of remodeling and the dynamic of a changing family, the idea of too much change in a home bothers me.  Should I want to be able to easily change the living space?  Or is more permanence a handicap?  Would more flexible houses be easier or less easy to resell?  Would people even want to resell them, or would flexibility preclude that?  What would be the true, rather than fiscal, worth of such a place?

A house, like a life, or a group of possessions, or a group of friends, takes on a certain personality of its own with the shared experiences of those who live there.  Office and retail space may easily fluidly change.  We realize the economic need of such changes, though we may be irritated when a favorite business closes or moves to a different location.  But I wonder about introducing such flexibility into our daily lives.  Though I’ve lived in different places almost every year for the past nine, I don’t wish for this change to continue throughout my life.  I’d like to be secure in a single place.  And someday I will be secure, in a small cottage with a large kitchen and plenty of garden space and trees outside.

Home in a Box.

I’m all about the ‘less stuff’ mode of living.  Sure, it’s nice to have nice things, but at the same time, i probably don’t need to keep all the books I have, or all the clothes I wear only rarely, or all the little markers of life that I seemed to have accumulated.  I recognize on an intellectual level that it’s all incidental, not integral.  But still, it’s rare that I clean it all up and throw it away.

But there are people who do.  The recent financial crisis has had a few upsides.  First, people are driving around less and wasting less gas, which I thought would never ever happen in this country.  Second, people are moving into smaller, more affordable homes.  Some people are going through extreme downsizing, living in little places that are 100 square feet or less.  I like to call this the ‘Home in a Box’. Somehow that sounds more cute and livable than ‘tool shed’, which is more or less what these homes amount to.

Personally, I don’t see myself getting a tiny house on wheels any time soon.  But the idea of a small place is cozy to me.  I see a wide front porch on a small little house with eager flowers climbing around it.  I see a bakcyard with lots of trees and a small vegetable garden somewhere.  I see an open living area in the central space, and light and living things everywhere.  I’m ready for it.

Thank you, science, for calling me cold.

For those of you who don’t know, I have a lifelong condition known as icicle-hands.  You can attribute it to bad circulation or a lack of insulating blubber around my fingers, but the facts of my condition remain.  1) If I’m sick or there’s a tropical heat wave in progress, my hands are either slightly warm or room temperature.  2) Otherwise, my hands range from icy to sub-Arctic.

It’s never really been a problem for me.  Most of the time, I’m used to the sensation of cold fingertips and don’t feel the need to warm my hands.  I’m easily able to comfort and soothe those with feverish brows with a simple touch of the hand.  And, of course, there’s the old adage of ‘cold hands, warm heart’, leaving me to reap the benefits of other’s perception of me as a warm and loving person.

However, recent studies may show that old adage to be completely false.  There is an indication thus far that physical warmth may promote both the perception of others as warm and also promote actions that would be considered ‘warm’ – kindness, thinking of others first, and genuine affection.  It is possible that since my hands are colder than most everything, ANY touch would promote ‘warm’ behavior in me.  However, other than this explanation, the recent research leave me in the cold (that was an unintentional pun, I swear).

The main conclusion of the research is much more broad – that physical and psychological concepts are deeply related, even in the way the brain processes both.  However, I would challenge researchers to examine such evidence in an area where language is not directly involved.  If we give both a psychological and a physical concept a shared name, obviously we think there is a connection between the two.  One area of investigation might be colors, which have different psychological meanings in different cultures.  In such cases, the strength of the affect of physical concept on psychological reactions might be better judged.

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