Sam Harrelson

What if businesses and schools looking for big ideas followed Asimov’s advice?

The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

via Published for the First Time: a 1959 Essay by Isaac Asimov on Creativity | MIT Technology Review.

More on Dura Europos Looting

The first image is the site of Dura Europos from June 28 2012 and the second image is from April 2 2014 (notice how many looting holes there are now):


Dura Europos is located right near the border of Syria and Iraq on the Euphrates and is an archaeological record of the strife this area has faced for millenia. The little fort town only existed as a functioning place for about 500 years, but was controlled by the Macedonians, Persians, Parthians, and Romans before finally being destroyed and left for us to recover by the Sassanians around 256 CE. We’ve discovered incredible records of our shared human culture such as the earliest depictions of Jesus, a full Mithraeum, a rather intact Roman citadel, and a “painted” Jewish synagogue complete with depictions of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament narratives that still cause wonderment from scholars.

It’s sad that we’re not hearing more about this cultural loss.

From the US State Department regarding looting at Dura Europos and many similar (very important) archaeological sites in Syria…

This unique Classical-period site, founded in the 3rd century BC and occupied until the 3rd century AD, demonstrates the diversity of the ancient Middle East. One of the world’s earliest churches was discovered here, as was one of the oldest preserved synagogues and numerous temples devoted to polytheistic deities. This important site of approximately 150 acres (60 hectares) is now covered by looters’ pits.

via Imagery of Archaeological Site Looting | Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Dura Europos Looting

The “holes” in the inset picture are looting holes from the area near the main agora at Dura Europos. Sadly, we haven’t properly excavated much of that area.

This literally breaks my heart given that we’ve properly excavated such a small amount of Dura Europos and we’ve learned so much about Judaism, early Christianity, and a plethora of other 3rd century religions flourishing under Roman rule in Syria…

We need to act rapidly against a situation that is becoming noticeably worse. In fact we are faced by a volcano in permanent eruption with a mixture of hate and horror. It is breaking down Syrian society and its values through the violent and systematic destruction of its heritage. The situation is comparable to a boiling crater of lava. Around this volcano, archaeological heritage is suffering eruptive blasts, with the population hovering between expectation, anguish and hope.

via Syrian Archaeology, ‘Scale of the Scandal’ | The ASOR Blog.

History and our cultural heritage matters.

Happy Birthday, Principia

Almost missed it…

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Latin for “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”, often referred to as simply the Principia, is a work in three books by Sir Isaac Newton, in Latin, first published 5 July 1687

via Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Roman Puppy Prints


Puppies have always gotten in the way of our work (fortunately):

The paw prints and hoof prints of a few meddlesome animals have been preserved for posterity on ancient Roman tiles recently discovered by archaeologists in England.

via Mashable

Meant to Struggle


I love the Bible.

I’m a Christian and a person of faith, so that’s (supposedly) a given. However, I really do love what I consider to be this set of inspired texts that has influenced and shaped the development of our species to such an extreme level that it’s simply unimaginable to think what our current world would look like without what we’ve come to think of as the Christian Bible in our presence.

Perhaps if Paul hadn’t come along and literally opened up Christianity to those outside of 1st century Jewish faith while battling those who realized that Jesus and his immediate followers were not looking to establish a new religion outside of what was then considered Judaism, we’d still be worshipping the Roman gods. In some alternate universe perhaps that’s the case.

Regardless, history happened.

Which brings up the notion of history versus the past. I love history. I also love the past. Those are two different statements about two different experiences.

I have no idea what my grandfather had for lunch on April 9, 1964. However, I’m 90% sure that Grandpa Frank had lunch fifty years ago. I believe he had lunch. Did he have lunch? We’ve no idea. There’s no remaining receipts, my grandmother has no evidence, and there’s no way to prove that Grandpa Frank went to Central Drugs for a burger. But I’m pretty sure he did. The facts have not been lost to history, but they have been lost to the past.

History includes documentations. We can point to a certain date and event and show that something happened with certainty. The past are the things that came before us but that doesn’t necessitate them being a part of “history.” No one will really know that I had Bojangles this morning once my Bank of America receipt goes away (hopefully) and my own debit card’s record fades into digital abyss. I had Bojangles but that will be lost to the past in 2064 when my grandson wonders what I had for lunch on this day of April 9.

In the same way, my faith is true. As Kierkegaard pointed out, all faith is irrational and absent of historical veracity. If faith can be rationalized, it’s not faith but historically verifiable. Faith is weird. It’s absent of human constructs. It tugs at hearstrings and wrestles with us until dawn over the river Jabbok. Ultimately, faith renames us and changes us into something we weren’t before. It’s undefinable. That makes it scary and that makes it challenging for the types of preachers, ministers, churches and ideologies that seek to have concrete answers for everything that is questionable. Uncle Walt was right.

Perhaps that’s why I also enjoy reading Bart Ehrman’s writings and listening to his lectures on the Great Courses series via Audible. It’s also why I don’t understand why so many people feel threatened by his writings such as his latest book on the personhood of Jesus (as a character in the New Testament).

Here’s the foil…

I’m politically conservative. I should say, I have always vacillated between the pragmatism of Bill Clinton and the ideology of Ross Perot. I was going into high school during the fascinating election of 1992 and read everything I could including the two books that Perot “wrote” as well as books about Clinton and his famous campaign. In the aftermath of the Clinton administration and the subsequent Bush years, I’ve become more and more convinced that both political parties in our country serve the same master (money for the players of the game) and have little regard for citizens.

As a former member of AmeriCorps who is a self described libertarian who can’t stand the religious right of politics but is anti-abortion yet anti-death penalty while being a small government pragmatist but wants to provide for all children who need healthcare and 3 meals a day… I don’t know where to go.

I’m not blue or red or progressive or … labels fade away. As they should.

I find solace in the person of Jesus. In my mind, that person wasn’t some sort of gnostic demi-god that didn’t struggle on the cross. My Jesus was a person that asked for the cup to be passed, that sweated blood, that cried real tears, that cursed, swore, got angry, spit, and felt abandoned when he looked down from the cross while realizing everything he had worked for was lost. My Jesus is the Jesus that ends with the original version of Mark where there is no nice and clean commissioning and we are challenged to spread the message and participate in the paranoia of the women who found the empty tomb.

Ultimately, my Jesus is the Jesus who was not raised because there was a historically verifiable empty tomb (something no Gospel claims) but claims a risen Jesus based on the experiences that followers have on roads and beaches days, months, and years after his death.

I will not read the Bible as literature like a piece from Shakespeare, nor will I submit to the yoke of biblical reader response (despite my Masters Degree from Yale being in “Religion and Literature). Similarly, I will not read the Bible as a piece of historical documentation of any part of the past as it is something entirely different. Our culture is too monochromatic and doesn’t allow for the multivalency of the Bible, let alone the creation accounts or the stories about the flood (go read your Bible… there are more than one of each).

So let’s actually read our Bibles and not just listen to preachers. Let’s “hear the words that Jesus said” (Johnny Cash) and let’s be troubled by them. We as humans, however great we are, were meant to struggle.

Now That’s an Obit

Interesting man…

Nigel Groom, who has died aged 89, was an Arabist, historian, author, soldier, spy-catcher and perfume connoisseur. These pursuits saw him fend off a tribal assassination attempt in Aden, uncover a KGB spy embedded in the RAF and explain the association between frankincense and Christ’s divinity.

via Nigel Groom – obituary – Telegraph.

The Story Behind a T-Shirt

Planet Money

Whatever you’re doing right now, stop it.

And go look (watch) this amazing production:

Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt.

Code is on GitHub.

“Every Day Do Something That Won’t Compute”

Go read the whole thing. Fitting for these times…

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front:

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.”

Uncle Herbert’s Autobiography

My Aunt Lib died this past Fall and while we were preparing for her funeral at her home, I happened upon my Uncle Herbert’s old wallet in a closet. I had to take a peek inside and found this piece of blue paper folded up…

2013 05 06 18 53 32

It was his autobiography.

I wish I had known more of this story when he was alive…

Here is the transcription with a few links that I’ve thrown in for my own benefit:


Uncle Herbert’s Autobiography

Born in Florence 1920 one block from American Bakery. Worked on farm. Worked Tyler Veener Mill, Roofing Co. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad at Station and in round house. Fueled first diesel train that came into Florence.

Joined Navy March 1942. Went to Newport Rhode Island Boot Camp then to Chicago Navy Pier Aviation Mechanical School about 10 months.

Then to Phila for Catapult School, then west coast waiting for ship corridor.

On ship went to Honolulu. Changed ships then to Marshall and Gilbert Islands in combat their. Liscomb Bay sunk. Then over Equator and then to invade Guam and Saipan. Typhoon on way 3 days.

5 battle stars.

To states for discharge after war. Started working at Koppers Wood Preserving after layed off at R.R. then back in Navy 1950 for 18 months Korea War on USS Saipan.

Then back to Koppers Co.

Heart attack in 1978. Retired 1980. 5 operation and 3 heart attacks one of them bypass.

Built 2 houses.

Setting Fire to the Past


Ancient Manuscripts In Timbuktu Reduced To Ashes : The Two-Way : NPR: “‘These priceless manuscripts are my identity, they’re my history. They are documents about Islam, history, geography, botany, poetry. They are close to my heart and they belong to the whole world,’ the mayor said.”

Fundamentalists in Mali aren’t the first or the last to commit such atrocities, of course. Europeans have a long history of setting fire to their respective pasts as do Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians, Seleucids, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Sumerians before them.

We set fire to the past when we speak of “the Founding Fathers” or “Biblical veracity” everyday.

Still… “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” as Faulkner reminds us.

How Gorillas Got Their Name

Learn something every day…

Gorilla – Wikipedia: “The American physician and missionary Thomas Staughton Savage and naturalist Jeffries Wyman first described the western gorilla (they called it Troglodytes gorilla) in 1847 from specimens obtained in Liberia. The name was derived from Greek Γόριλλαι (Gorillai), meaning ‘tribe of hairy women’, described by Hanno the Navigator, a Carthaginian navigator and possible visitor (circa 480 BC) to the area that later became Sierra Leone.”

Hanno was a fascinating person (as were many Carthaginians).

There’s even a crater on the moon named after him.

Here’s the source that started my Sunday afternoon rat-hole into the life of Hanno…

A History of Ancient Geography Among the Greeks and Romans: From the Earliest Ages Till the Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1 (on Google Books for free).

Indiana Jones, UChicago and an Amazing Tale of Misplaced Mail

So insanely awesome (and yes, I will DRIVE up to Chicago for the Indiana Jones exhibit):

UChicago College Admissions, Mischief Managed For those of you who have…: “According to Paul, this package was en route from him in Guam to his intended recipient IN ITALY (registered mail confirmation attached) when it must have fallen out of the package in Hawaii.”

Poor Gorgosaurus

Sad tale of a gorgosaurus that has, fortunately, been fossilized to preserve an amazing CSI-esque amount of data:

Who knew that brain tumors could show up in the fossil record and be responsible for a scary dino having two broken legs and a busted shoulder?

Gotta love science.

Dura Europos and Me

Dura Europos

Thanks to Evernote, I’ve been able to digitize most of the notebooks I’ve written on Dura Europos. I know take digital notes on the small city, but thumbing back through my Moleskine notebooks full of clippings and hand written notes makes me feel a bit like Indiana Jones with his father’s collected notebooks on the Holy Grail.

In many ways, Dura is like my holy grail.

I started studying the city while working as a curatorial assistant to Susan Matthews at the Yale Art Gallery while doing my graduate studies there in ancient religious art. In fact, my real first job was to spend time with the thousands of objects that Yale has in its warehouses and the gallery basement and lovingly “digitize” Yale’s collection of slides, objects and paintings from its involvement with the excavation of Dura Europos in the 1930’s. It was magical.

I still go back to those dark and stuffed basements and warehouses full of artifacts, beads, paintings, statues, detritus and debris in my mind and realize what a chance Prof Matheson allowed me to fall in love with a place.

Ten years later, I still want to go:

Dura-Europos, a Melting Pot at the Intersection of Empires – “As a city of extraordinary cultural diversity,’ said Jennifer Y. Chi, an archaeologist and the exhibition’s chief curator, ‘Dura-Europos has great resonance for the modern world, where multiculturalism shapes the very nature and quality of daily life.”

Here’s a nice interactive site on Dura that the Yale Art Gallery has put together with maps, images and descriptions. I highly recommend checking it out.

I would share my Evernote notebook with you all… but would Dr Henry Jones Sr share his holy grail notebook? Nah.

Club of Honest Whigs

The name of my next band…

Benjamin Franklin – Wikipedia: “Whilst in London, Franklin became involved in radical politics. He was a member of the Club of Honest Whigs, alongside thinkers such as Richard Price, the minister of Newington Green Unitarian Church who ignited the Revolution Controversy.”

Geez I love Ben Franklin.

American Democracy and Athenian Democracy

From a 2007 paper by Josiah Ober at Stanford titled “What the Ancient Greeks Can Tell Us About Democracy” (PDF)…

She explains the Assembly’s annual decision of whether to hold an ostracism, and the occasional (only 15 recorded instances) of actual ostracisms, as a repeated ritual through which the mass of ordinary Athenian citizens reminded Athenian elites of the power of the people to intervene in inter-elite conflicts if and when those conflicts threatened the stability of the polis. Forsdyke argues that the Athenian revolution itself, and thus the origin of democracy, is best understood as a mass intervention in what was formerly a exclusively elite field of political competition – and that the signal success of Athenian democracy was in the regime stabilization that emerged with the credible threat of mass intervention.

Recalls and impeachments don’t do the job of intervening (like ostracisms) in what has become a very exclusive process of government in the USA.

Breaking Down Monoliths 1990’s Style

As a dorky/geeky middle schooler in the early 90’s, I remember the frustration of not being able to have my messages flow from Prodigy to users on other services such as CompuServe. We were locked in to virtual message board monoliths…

Prodigy (online service) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Two of Prodigy’s most popular services turned out to be its message boards and email. Because Prodigy’s business model depended on rapidly growing advertising and online shopping revenue, email was developed primarily to aid shopping, not for general communication between users, which in practice is what it became. The message boards resulted in users being connected to the service far longer than projected. This resulted in higher than expected expenses, adversely affecting the service’s cash flow and profitability.”

Eventually, the AOL monolith was hatched in the mid-90’s and that caused a great exodus to their platform. Prodigy, CompuServe, etc limped along for a few years but ultimately faded away into the nether.

Ultimately, AOL would be replaced by Friendster then MySpace and now a tripartite conglomeration of mostly Facebook, a little Twitter and Tumblr for the niche folks. Sure, there are Google+, the new, Foursquare, Yelp, as well. However, we’re back to where we were in 1993 with user lock in of messaging and communication.

I was elated when Twitter came into prominence and more mainstream adoption in 2007. I remember having coffee with Tris Hussey at an Affiliate Summit that year and discussing how Twitter would rapidly become a protocol similar to POP or IMAP or even TCP/IP that would serve as the social messaging backbone of the internet. It would allow for the delivery of content and messages between services and become something of an open messaging standard that was so lacking then and definitely is now.

We were wrong then and certainly wrong now about Twitter.

Maybe the new darling will solve this issue or fill this need. I hope so. Dalton certainly has high aspirations.

Head over to TWiT and listen to the last This Week in Google featuring Dalton Caldwell in which Leo and Kevin Marks really ask some great questions about’s future and long-term strategy. It’s the best podcast I’ve heard Leo do in a long while.

So back to 1992 and 2012, Dave’s post here is a pipe dream in the age of advertising being the backbone of our social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Google at least) but one I’ll happily add my support to:

We could make history — I.M.H.O. — Medium: “We need to break out of the model where all these systems are monolithic and standalone. There’s art in each individual system, but there’s a much greater art in the union of all the systems we create.”

Imagine a web where advertising supports, rather than impedes, network and social spaces working together.

Maybe that’s or maybe it’s a slow realization that RSS and hyperlinks are really the best way to have a decentralized social network backbone. It’s the reason I encourage my students all to have their own blog, their own space on the web… not just a Facebook or Twitter profile (and adults too).

I’m certainly betting on that as I have re-thought of this place less as my “blog” and more of my own self-hosted social presence on the web.

Sure, things will pipe out of here to Facebook and Twitter, sending signals to folks locked into those walled-gardens that I’ve updated something or shared something. However, I’ll be posting less and less direct stuff there and instead focusing on this being my coral reef.

It will happen to us all. Eventually.

Spotting Pyramids from NC with Google Earth

Fascinating story for the history and archaeological aspects, but also interesting to note that Maiden, NC is where Apple’s iCloud lives.

Lost Egyptian Pyramids Found? : Discovery News: “Two possible pyramid complexes might have been found in Egypt, according to a Google Earth satellite imagery survey.

Located about 90 miles apart, the sites contain unusual grouping of mounds with intriguing features and orientations, said satellite archaeology researcher Angela Micol of Maiden, N.C.”

More here.