Category Archives: Random

It All Started With a Tweet

Actually it was the reply to a tweet. The one below in fact. Suddenly, going through twitter in the morning before getting out of bed changed the trajectory of the entire summer and, in all honesty, may have helped my reconnect with a very long forgotten piece of myself. I’ve used the analogy before, but in this case I very much feel like Columbus who has discovered something that thousands of people already knew about. The Ghostbusters cartoon, that is The Real Ghostbusters, had a comic.

Nessie is a ghost
Nessie is a ghost
No, really.
No, really.

So it goes, that April 19th began a tireless internet search for any format of any of these comics I could find. I lived for the ghostbusters cartoon when I was a kid. I saw the series before the movie and was always a bit bummed that Egon did not look the same in the movie. If I ever had a television hero or role model as such, it was Egon. Cartoon Egon. I can’t tell you how hard I tried to get my hair to roll like that. Incidentally it was the late 80s and early 90s and I did have the rat-tail too.

Personal collection of animation cells
Personal collection of animation cells

Not a single person I knew was into comic books when I was a kid. To be fair I grew up mostly around adults, but still I don’t remember classmates bringing any to school or whatever. The first one I bought was an Uncanny X-men that was in the magazine section of the grocery store (Brookshire Brothers is its name), because I had been watching the animated series on Fox Kids on Saturday mornings.

I kept up with the story arc until at some point in Jr. High school, I was made to get rid of my collection of two large Nocona boot boxes full of comics, by this time X-men, Ninja Turtles, and Wolverine because they were “a fire hazard.” I gave them to the one person I knew had comics and as far as I know he still has them all to this day.

When I tried to get back into them later when I had my own place that I wasn’t concerned with pyromaniac comics burning down, I found that the single story lines I had followed had been split into seemingly limitless different arcs and I absolutely hated it. I didn’t pick up a comic again until this year.

The original run, drawn and written true to the cartoon are a thing of beauty. Not far into the run, there is Egon pointing out the debates on the warm-bloodedness of dinosaurs. That was neat enough, but when I got to the issue that had the reference to Symmes Hollow Earth theory I was hook. I am a historian of science (specifically earth and field sciences, geology, paleontology, and archaeology) so it was fascinating to see  that obscure reference in a comic from 1988 aimed at kids. I now have an enlargement of that panel on my office wall.

Discussing the finer details about dinosaurian blood temperature
Discussing the finer details about dinosaurian blood temperature
The Hollow Earth Theory
The Hollow Earth Theory

In addition for finally rounding up all the original US comics and digitizing them, I lucked on to a fellow from the UK selling the first 100+ of the UK Mag comics. I have about 15 of them digitized, but they are coming along. That aside, something interesting started showing up in the google searches for Ghostbusters comics–(and here we have the second voyage of Columbus) there were new ones.

They were new, but they weren’t new. They are brilliant. They are absolutely everything that a fan could possibly want in a 21st century rendition of the franchise. I hate to admit just how long it took me to get used to the newly drawn characters specifically because I love all the artwork and the artist Dan Schoening (@Dapperpomade) is such a great guy and a must follow on Twitter if not for interaction then for his sneak peak/previews (including some really neat post-it art).

That is the "Rookie" from the video game.
That is the “Rookie” from the video game. (all images are copyright of IDW Publishing and are used here to highlight and review the work where they are originally located. no infringement is intended and they are used for educational purposes (secondary to praise))
The Twinkie
The Twinkie

There could be a full manual written on just the easter eggs and sly references to other incarnations of the Ghostbusters that he includes in the series. When I started reading the series (that is now more than a couple years old) the appearance of Belushi as Ray’s Dreamworld Virgil pretty much squashed any doubts I had about where this was going. The writing, masterfully executed by Erik Burnham (@Erikburnham) brings everything together in a way that make every single issue enjoyable every single time you read one.

It's the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
and I feel...
and I feel…

What I think I love the most amongst all this stuff that many of you have been enjoying for years is the fact that it does the very opposite of the thing that turned me away from comics all those years ago. Instead of splitting stories into backstories and alternate universes and riding relative dimensions to some weird end, the IDW publishing series is tying in everything. That is everything. The cartoons–yes, plural, even that weird one made for teens is represented, the movies, the video games, it is all coming together and that, for me, is a nice bit of Ray Stantz cosmological symmetry.

So much goodness
So much goodness

They, along with Tom Waltz (@TomWaltz) produced the crossover to rule them all: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ghostbusters. (I don’t want to leave the colorist Luis Antonio Delgado out either, the stuff pops on the page and looks amazing on a retina display iPad, Luis doesn’t have a twitter that I am aware). God, how I wish this would have been done when I was a kid, because the very UN-esque agreement that my mother made me submit to in order to get Ninja Turtle toys was to make room for them by getting rid of my ghostbusters toys. That this even exists is a tribute to humanity’s greatness. I am telling you, t is golden record in space worthy.

Even when interests mesh, it isn't a perfect 1:1 and that makes it perfect
Even when interests mesh, it isn’t a perfect 1:1 and that makes it perfect
Mikey asks the important questions
Mikey asks the important questions

Every page has comes with something like this. Which, of course, has led to backtracking to Tom Waltz recent runs with Ninja Turtles proper and it doesn’t disappoint either, but that is a thought for another time.

Currently they are running a 4 part Ghostbusters Get Real, wherein the cartoon ghobstbusters have crossed over into the new/real/comic universe.  Never before have I wanted to hit up a Comic Con and get anything signed before, but this series has me looking at future locations.

Get Real #'s 1 & 2
Get Real #’s 1 & 2

The third one is out in a couple weeks and will feature Egon on the cover, so I am more than a little excited for that. The story is running true to all forms too. The best news comes that they are also working on a Ghostbusters Annual for the end of this year and a full new series (this will be Vol. 3) for 2016 along with a full published Tobin’s Spirit guide. There is really much, much more to say about just how wonderful all of this is and most especially for me as it recaptures a lot of what I was before life really got in the way. It also doesn’t hurt that I am finding it as I am working on my PhD research. A quick read through of one or two issues is a welcome break and recharge from digitizing thousands of WPA letters and funding, locality, worker records, and bureaucratic paperwork. I will, with all sincerity but these guys in my acknowledgements when the dissertation is finished.

Joe Cocker: the voice of my childhood

It has always seemed odd to me how people can feel the impact of a person’s death if they had no immediate relationship or contact with that person. I suppose that passive relationships in the case of listening to someone’s music counts as much as anything because I find myself more saddened than usual on hearing of the death of Joe Cocker. It is always sad when someone dies and you feel some empathy for their family losing a husband or a father, or whatever, but the news today spun me into some ultra reflection of the music that shaped my life. Many (and there are many) obituaries talk about how unique Joe was as a person, and how humble he remained even after years of celebrity. NPR rescored the interview  when he talked about his drinking and drug problems and his long climb back to sobriety. I knew none of that growing up in the 80s while my dad played his studio albums. (Once I figured out how to work the stereo I played it a LOT. This and Kris Krisstofferson’s Jesus was a Capricorn album, but that is another story.)


I read the back of this album a million times and wore out at least one needle listening to it. The power of his voice was unmistakable. There was always something about it that made it the best listening for me. Then “With a little help from my friends” became the anthem for the television show “The Wonder Years.” It was the first time I knew the music before the show, and the subsequent crush on Winnie Cooper further galvanized my relationship with Joe Cocker.
Once I finally made it to the buy your own music portion of my childhood it was scouring the local pawnshop for cassettes and albums and you had to make every dollar count so a double album for the price of one got me Mad Dogs and Englishmen. For full disclosure I hate live albums, but this one was a lot of fun and remains one of the only ones I tolerate, and luckily it was reissued some years ago in CD form. If there is a quintessential Joe Cocker Album, I would say it was that one.
I have listened to this, and other albums most of the day since I read the news this morning. It is not that unusual as I listen to at least one of his songs throughout the day on my playlist at work. There is something about the death of someone like this that leaves a body of work behind that you can still access after they are gone, some people may have photos, some audio, or even short video of loved ones that have passed, but not as easily found as a google or youtube search. So, I have been thinking about that and listening to his music, and reading the multitude of memorials and obituaries from British and American news outlets.
Most if not all will mention if not link to his Woodstock performance, which was the first video of him singing I had ever seen. After watching it, I though he had some kind of brain issue, but later realized that was just him. The John Belushi Saturday Night Live skit captures it perfectly, and has been shared around a good bit today as well.


Even more fun was when this was parodied on Animaniacs in “Woodstock Slappy”(which also had an amazing Abbott and Costello misunderstanding of Who’s on stage) The best thing about this is he sings the original line from the Beatles song “Would you throw a tomato at me?” It was Ringo who said, “wait, guys, you know what happens when we sing about [some sort of candy] and the fans all throw it on stage? What happens if we do it this way? So they changed it to “Would you stand up and walk out on me?”
While probably his best known song, it is by far his only one. He had the kind of voice, delivery, timing, that easily made covers his own. In fact there are many songs that I heard Joe’s version first and still prefer them to the originals. I don’t think I could begin to count my favorites because they vary depending on mood, from fun and uplifting to dark and soul shaking. I have listened to the one above a few times today, but I will end with the one I have listened to the most today after finishing Mad Dogs  & Englishmen (and Joe Cock-er!) It is such a well done video to a song that really makes an impression. It is this amalgamation of lyrics and Joe’s voice that give his music such power, If you don’t feel something after listening to it, or him in general, you may need to rethink your relationship with music. Joe’s death should not have had any impact on my life other than a simple death, but somehow it was like the loss of a distant relative who I never got to see and only interacted with by listening to the music he created. It is also interesting how even as trends in music came and went in my life that I always maintained an unrepentant love of Joe Cocker.It is even more interesting that during my lifetime 70 has went from being an appropriate age of death to the announcement today being met with “he was only 70.” Far be it from me to sum up his life, work, and contribution to the world, but writing is a way of thinking, and it may be my meager way of saying thanks for all the music.


Collision of Worlds

If you have read (or will read) the first entry of this blog, you know (or will know) the story behind The Paleo Porch. A great many of you may have already made the connection with the Have Bones Will Travel slogan, too. But in case you haven’t, or maybe want to understand how circuitous my thoughts run, here is a brief rundown.

It’s Catchy. I mean, it is really catchy, that’s why it’s been used over and over again in popular culture. From the simple beginnings of a gunman for hire to a Fractured Fairy Tale in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The latter was a new take on the Puss in Boots fairytale. Two of the items included, “Have Boots Will Travel,”  and “Have Spoon Will Travel.” Have Bones Will Travel is also a section of Yale’s Medical School, that shows up on google searches as beginning in 1996. “Have Fossils Will Travel doesn’t work on account of fossils having too many syllables.”

It’s part of our culture. Our shared television culture, that is. Most of the children that attend my workshops have no idea who Richard Boone or Paladin was–their parents might, and their grandparents usually all do. A few even know of the history behind Paladin’s pseudonym. Paladins being the Twelve Peers and warriors of Charlemagne. Which for me is even better because it ties into one of my favorite songs: Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner by Warren Zevon. Roland and Van Owen coming from some of the earliest French literature in the Song of Roland. In the song, Roland, a mercenary, is double crossed by Van Owen another gun for hire. The trope appears again in the movie version of The Lost World (Jurassic Park II) Where Roland, the great white hunter is thwarted by Nick Van Owen, a documentary filmmaker and environmentalist, so in a Rube Goldbergian sort of way, it connects back to dinosaurs and fossils.

Van Owen

Replacing the iconic chess knight of silver with a dino-knight, just looks cool. The paralophosaurus is pretty iconic and still offers a more interesting profile than the T-Rex.

Back to the show: Have Gun Will Travel was never a favorite, but I liked it well enough. I also liked Wild Wild West, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza. On Sunday afternoons if the weather was right, I could pick up channel 55 out of Houston. The Tube, as it was called showed a marathon of old westerns: Rawhide, The Rifleman, and those mentioned above. The thing that drew me back to Paladin when I was creating this…thing…was his duality.

At his hotel in San Francisco Paladin is a wealthy playboy who enjoys the best of everything. Once he takes a case he shifts into “field mode” a completely different uniform and modus operandi. It’s very similar to real paleontology. Back at the University or Museum Lab–usually in town far away from the field, is a completely different world than the field work. Just ask anyone that does it.

Finally, I remember how smart Paladin was. He quote classic literature, poetry, etc whenever the need arose, to prove a point, or frame a situation. It showed that in a television show that was idolizing the single epitome of masculinity protecting , serving, helping, etc. etc. that it was still okay to be smart. So, when all these things slammed together in my head one night I created this persona for the best way to brand my talks and my little traveling museum. So, as Paul Harvey said, Now you know the rest of the story.

Well I never did.

Summer is drawing to a close and I have been working steadily on things I need to complete to justify getting signed embossed paperage from a large Tier I research based state university. I am lucky enough to work beyond my home department and as a result come in contact with a seemingly limitless procession of people, from all walks of life. This is my second go-round in graduate school, having completely a History M.A. at Lamar University way back in 2012. This time and location is different from the last, not better or worse just different. And that is something people, especially those from the same walks of life, have a hard time seeing.

The great thing about university is, or should be, the meeting and mixing of ideas if not necessarily people. But time after weary time those super smart valedictorians come in all full of themselves only to realize they are in class with 30-40 (or 140) OTHER valedictorians, and they are not longer the smartest one in the class. They also can’t fathom the notion that not everyone in the same room watches the same television show, listens to the same music, drives the same car, eats the same food, etc. They are suddenly forced to interact, nay survive and rely on people who aren’t like them. It should lead to new awakenings, but it usually just ends in smaller friendship circles and long pouty tear-filled calls to your salutatorian friend who went to a different university.

This time of year always gets me to thinking about all the things I have never done compared to the plethora of people that share my same generational exposure. I have been trying to compile a list and I am still working on it, usually as something comes up in conversation that I am only tangentially a part of due to popular culture or standup comedians.

So, I shall lay bare some of my cultural shortcomings in hopes that it will at the very least start conversations about the possibility of other people being different even if you are absolutely sure that they are the same (or maybe they even paid the same amount to get into the same sorority or fraternity–but that is a different story altogether)

In no particular order I give you some of the things I have never done

I have never watched any of the Star Wars in any form of entirety. I remember seeing the R2-D2 and C-3PO arguing in the desert, the Ewoks, and freaking out at the swamp scene because Yoda sounded like Fozzie Bear. (traumatic, I know) Nor do I want to.

No, Really. Fozzie. Bear. I kept waiting for him to say,
“Wakka, wakka, wakka.”

I have never read any of the Harry Potter books. I have only seen one movie that was a break from Field work in Utah, it was a middle one where a creepy short lady took over the school and some twins destroyed a testing day a la 1984 or something.

I do not worship at the altar of C.S. Lewis and find it odd that so many Christians do.

I have never seen Sesame Street, our TV didn’t pick up Houston 8 Public TV. My first Henson exposure was The Muppet Movie. I will take Gonzo over Elmo any day.

Along those same lines, I was in 3rd or 4th grade before I ever saw Reading Rainbow and was stunned to see Geordi LaForge hosting without his visor. And on the track of Star Trek, I only saw it on Friday nights because it came on at 9 o’clock and during the week that was past my bedtime and I don’t prefer one to the other. I do know my favorite character was Bones,(and I was pleased with his character in the new movie–the first new movie, I still haven’t seen the second one) and Geordi was second.

I have never seen an episode of Mr. Rogers neighborhood or Captain Kangaroo, but I recognize the greatness of both.

Nope, still couldn’t tell you what comes on this station
besides NOVA and Nature

I only saw Nickelodeon when I stayed at a friend’s house, which wasn’t very often. So I have never seen Doug, Hey! Arthur, Rocko’s Modern Life, or any of the others.

I don’t know who a single person is in this.
Okay, maybe a few from life context, but not their story,
other than the Airbender. I watched it when I lived with my cousin,
his daughters insisted.

I’ve never seen Animal House or all of the Blues Brothers.

I watched Beakman’s World on saturday morning, and have never seen an episode of Bill Nye. I thoroughly appreciate the latter’s continued work in public service and science service.

I don’t watch that many movies, and I really cannot stand sitcoms or even series. I don’t watch the Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Big Bang Theory, or anything like that. I once saw an episode of Big Bang Theory while waiting with our dog at the vet’s office and thought it was terrible.

I liked Frasier and the early seasons of That 70’s Show, but didn’t rearrange my life to see them. I have only ever been part of a “watch party” or something similar for one thing: BBC’s Life series. We met every week at a friend’s house to watch it. I later got the Canadian copy as it had Attenborough narration and not Oprah.

I was in college before I ever saw an episode of NOVA or PBS Nature. I was also in college before I knew you could get to Galveston, TX any other way than the Ferry. We only ever went to see someone in the hospital there and always took the Ferry.

I never watched Lost, either when it was on, or when my wife marathoned it over the summer on Netflix.

I knew the Shel Silverstein wrote songs for Dr. Hook and Bobby Bare before I knew he had (apparently REALLY popular books of poems)I never owned a Shel Silverstein book until I was grown. I checked them out of the school library later, but we didn’t have those types of books at home. Not that we didn’t have a ton of books at home which I read all the time.

Boby Bare and Shel Silverstein
The guy that wrote Marie Laveaux wrote
 “Where the Sidewalk Ends?’ 

I like Doctor Who, but I am in no way a whovian.

The only movies I have ever seen twice in the theatres are The Watchmen and Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows. Sherlock came about because we went to see it with one set of friends, and then happen to run into an older set of friends later that invited us back.

I was 15 before I ever had a cheeseburger, and that was because my cousin took me to McDonalds during the viewing for my Grandfather and ordered us food.  I don’t particularly care for cheese either. I have a friend that thinks that is grounds for never trusting me.

I never did grow into liking milk. I cook with it, and I like ice cream, but milk is still a big nope.

I have never seen Goonies. I had Goonies II for Nintendo and never beat it either.

I have never beaten a video game–not even with a Game Genie.

My cousin had one, still never beat Mario. 

I hate the way J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King write.

I’ve never changed a baby. Into a frog, lizard, or anything else, (or a diaper) I am pretty sure I have only held one, and I think it was asleep so it wasn’t even a bottle feeding hold. I have bottle fed nearly every farm and some wild animals you can think of, so there is a tradeoff maybe?

I don’t really know what I ever did instead of any of this, but there are a few things that I have thought of. I might add more at a later date, but who knows.

There are some things I did do that some of my friends may or may not have done, we never talked about it.

I started reading Michael Crichton books in late elementary school, and Clive Cussler books in Jr. High. I have read half of the “People of the (Wolf)” series and most of Louis L’amours stuff (to be honest they got old) I remember seeing Willow, the Neverending Story, and The Last Unicorn. I remember watching Unico and the Island of Magic and being terrified of the evil puppet thing. I didn’t find out until decades later that it was considered anime when I discovered what anime was.

This guy I know, never remembered his name, but “The Flying Dog” was close enough

It’s not that I worked at not doing all these things, many of them just never came up. I don’t feel the need to run through and catch back up on all the things I have missed either, as I look back over the list now, I wonder just how much of them impacted and shaped my life as much as the people who had their lives changed by first seeing Star Wars, etc.

If you have made it this far, please feel free to share something that you never did, it doesn’t have to be Post Secret good or soul stirringly revealing, but if you think about it I bet there is something.

Have Bones Will Travel

Stepping out into the well tested waters of crowd funding for science. It’s at least well tested for others, I have never done it. But, as part of the indiegogo project, I wanted to attach it to this blog as well as the Paleo Porch facebook page.

When I was working in the Vertebrate Paleontology Lab at Lamar University we had a collection of replicas and fossils that we could take to the local elementary classrooms to give a little workshop. Now that I am no longer there, I do not have access to the lab or the collection, so I have decided to collect my own and start again. That is where the appeal for donations comes in.

I actually starter with Kickstarter to, well, kickstart this collection. After going through all the motions to get it activated they rejected the idea. They said the projects that have a proven track record are more likely to get funded. Here I had the definition of a kickstart all wrong. After working on things throughout the summer I decided to try again with an indiegogo attempt.

As part of the transparency pledge and group involvement, I will be sharing all the purchases and all the  talks that I do on here as well as on the facebook page. I have high expectations for what I will be able to do with this little traveling museum. Mainly I will focus on giving talks at local schools during the school year, and working with public libraries during the summers.

My hope is that this will not be just located to within a few hours drive time of where we live. That might require a little more work. Since we now live in Oklahoma, I have a base of students and schools up here to work with. But, we still have family in Texas that we will end up visiting at one time or another, and I will always have my stuff with us when traveling.

My wife and I have also thought about taking them with us when we go on vacation. If we do go somewhere for a few days, as soon as we hit where we would stay we would contact the local library, or similar public foray and see if we would be able to set up there near the end of our trip. So, on paper it looks like the gift that keeps on giving (maybe).

I don’t expect any really large donations, but a lot of a few dollars at a time. The perks aren’t anything greatly spectacular, but they are part of what makes us, well, us. Above you see our logo, that will be on the magnet and the T-shirt. Below is the logo icon that will be on the stickers.

Finally, the real payoff for doing stuff like this is getting science into the hands of school kids that may never get the opportunity to go to a museum. Coming from a small school, I know how big of an ordeal it was to even plan a trip to the Natural History Museum. Sharing the wonders of science, and the history of science with kids, just may keep them interested in science. If it doesn’t do anything else, it might help kids to think beyond their little community and ask more questions. 
Turns out the kids are usually really grateful that you took the time to share this stuff with them. I will wrap up here and share just a small smackeral sampling of the “Thank You” letters I have received in the past from giving these talks. As I get more I will share them as part of the posts to let everyone who has been gracious enough to support this project now that the have helped make a difference or at least an impact on some child’s education. 
and, just as the letters attest, Thank You for stopping by, taking the time to read, and possibly helping fund such an endeavor. If you are interested in helping me out, or just want to know more, please check  out my Indiegogo project and see what it’s all about. Please donate and spread the word. 

A Regular Family Business Part Deux

I have touched more on family here than I think I intended. But, while that train is rolling, let’s just ride for a while. There is something interesting when you start looking at your family tree. I have mentioned before how in just a few generations you are directly related to more people than populated England in the 16th century. The idea that from all those strains you take your name from one, and hang some sort of cultural, ancestral, and /or genealogical identity on that is rather odd. I am sure it happens to others, but my case is really interesting since the only side of my family that has not been in America since the opening of the 17th century is the side I get my surname from.

Granted, that side also connects be to crazy people like Alexander “Bokhara” Burnes and Robert Burn(e)s. Their grandfather is my Great^7 Grandfather. We were the lucky younger children who, instead of inheriting land and titles, moved to the United States. Interesting side note, while on a trip to Vancouver, B.C in order to get engaged, my girlfriend and I had left the aquarium and was walking through Stanley Park, where a lovers of Robert’s poetry society had erected a statue of the bard. It seemed rather fitting that I proposed to my girlfriend by the statue of my cousin and in a fell swoop soon remove all of her ancestry and replace it with my last name. This idea of who you are just gets more and more ridiculous, doesn’t it?

While we are picking and choosing a new system arises when one goes to university. Especially when one goes to university and stays for as long as I have. You get an academic genealogy. Your faculty family tree can go directly through mentors/advisors and without giving you something like a name that people can hang your identity on for you, you get the benefits of all those academic ancestors who have studied before. Phd-comics has a neat little comic that highlights this phenomenon:

See how troubling something like this can be–and this from February 9, 2011. But I have talked to some people about having people that are their advisors serving on my committee and that making us academic cousins. So, there is something to this. After all I have been told that the Germans take this very seriously and refer to their advisors as “Doctor-Father.” Not sure if that changes to Doctor Mother in some cases. Come to think of it I know several people who refer to their advisors as a Mother—-ahem, that’s not what we are here to discuss.
Mine is something of an interesting case, again because I think so, because it’s geography parallels by real ancestry. Without getting too technical or deep into the politics of how this works, I will run the circle for you. I am currently studying at the University of Oklahoma. I received a Master’s at Lamar University where my mentor–Dr. Jim Westgate–my doctor father if you will– still works. Jim studied at the University of Texas-Austin under Drs. Ernie Lundelius and the recently passed Wann Langston, Jr. (top right)  Wann studied at the University of Oklahoma under John Willis Stovall. (above left). Wann and John named Acrocanthosaurus atokensis in a 1950 publication. If you remember in an earlier post I talked about my family living in Atoka at this time and working their fields that were within walking distance of the Acrocanthosaur find. (If you don’t remember it’s the earlier post Dino Dynasties)
I am on the left, Dr. Jim Westgate on the right, and
an academic sibling Jordan Mika.
Something to think about. Your academic ancestry can be direct or even branch out if you so choose. But, be warned, if one of your academic Aunts’s doctor-father was someone of imminent note, and you bring that up in casual conversation, it could do you harm–especially if your new forced family members like to use your extended advisor-in-law’s books for their classes.
Which is sillier? To mark who you are because of so many random decisions along the way, or mark how you think because of some random decisions along the way? Truth is, they are all interconnected in ways that are probably past the point of comprehension. Sure, there are no academic genetics that help structure your actual being, but if you stay in long enough, you will pick up on and adopt certain things which your advisor does. It is likely, that what they do is in some form a piece of what they inherited from their advisor and so on. So, while your non academic evolution as a person, as an individual with a surname might be considered standard under the Darwinian model, it sure looks like Educational Evolution still follows Lamarckian principles.
Keep sticking your neck out. Remember, you are building on knowledge that your advisor built on before, and with each passing academic generation the bar is raised even higher. Driven by that inner “need” to know more, answer more questions, graduate, and eventually take on a young grasshopper of your own, who, if you’ve done your job right, will have a longer neck than you.
This has been either the best analogy or the worst parable ever.
Welcome to how my brain works,


A Regular Family Business

Here is something that I have shared with close friends. It is so much fun that it should go out on the record. I have traced as much of my family tree back as I can find at this point. Writing and coursework have gotten in between me and finishing. Not to mention records locked away somewhere in Dublin. Every single line of my family has been in the United States since the early 17th century. All, that is, but one. That one happens to be the one that gives me my last name.

But that is not the fun part. My great-great-great grandfather was born in Ireland, and at some point made his way to America.

But that isn’t the fun part either.

His son–my Great-great grandfather lived and worked in Oklahoma. I mentioned how close his place was to the locale where the Acrocanthosaurus fossil was discovered and so you have seen the below image before.

Now, here is the fun part. Living the in Indian Territory on either side of the turn of the 20th century creates characters not even found in books. Three brothers came with all kinds of stories. It was told that when James was a kid he would throw silver dollars in the air for Frank James to shoot. Absolutely no way to prove that, and given the storyteller capabilities that flow through the tree it’s doubtful, but fun. 
The Burnes Brothers (L-R George Washington Burnes 2/22/1876-7/10/1965; James Benjamin Burnes 12/2/1872-2/21/1955; and Robert Eli Burnes 2/8/1870-12/24/1924
You can image how excited I was to get to see that photo. I have requests in with friends who are better at photo editing than I am to try and get this out to its finest. Now the first thing that went through my mind when I saw this was That’s amazing and one of the coolest photos I have ever seen. 
Below is the second thing that went through my mind.                               

Something that makes this even funnier is that I have always said there were certain characteristics in Daniel Day-Lewis’ Butcher Bill persona that sounded like my father. Further still, the University I studied geology when this movie came out was located quite near the locale of the Spindletop Gusher. (Lamar University-Beaumont, TX, where I subsequently graduated with a degree in History minoring in Geology, Anthropology and Earth Science and an eventual M.A. in History) Turns out the producers of There Will Be Blood rented some of the century old oil rig platform/setup for use in the movie. Of course it is only there at the blowout scene and is covered with oil, but it is still a claim to fame. 
Now,  have brought the bloodline back to Oklahoma for my PhD. I live a couple hours from our old homestead. So full circle, I suppose. 

Suiting Up


         With the beginning of Fall term, “Suiting up” usually refers to those lucky individuals who are on cushiony scholarships to play a game. This brief aside will not be about that.  This short entry will entail the suit.

        Now that the weather has cooled off enough to wear a suit, I am back into mine on a daily basis. Funny thing about it cooling off enough to wear a suit, when I have photos of desert field work being done in a suit. There are stories of Raymond Dart wrapping fossils in his jacket and waistcoat in the field to bring them back home.

       Most modern experiences with suits go something like this: You are dragged to the mall (if you have one) or some other department store as a child in order to purchase an ill fitting suit of clothes for Easter or fancy dress occasion, deaths, weddings, etc.  The thing fits in exactly no places and you hold your breath for a week hoping you don’t grow enough that the trousers leave you looking like Jethro Clampett. You probably only wear the suit that one time, you avoid eating or drinking while wearing the suit and generally take all care in the world not to treat it as normal clothing lest it lose its “suitiness.” Unless of course you are under the age of about 8 and then all bets are off and you have your coat off rolling around on the ground wrestling with some other ringbearer or honorary pallbearer over the little redhaired girl from your class.

       Fast forward to owning a real suit. Well, not that far. Your next suit is probably not much better. Usually it will come from the same department store, and more often than not, from the same elderly clothing attendant that smells of old spice and death. You will get the one that closest resembles your body type, and are off looking like either like an overstuffed bag of lettuce, or a standard circus/revival tent following an elephant/choir stampede. The most thought you give to tailoring is getting the legs hemmed, IF they were not already prehemmed to some existing length that, at least within the world of Dillard’s can vary anywhere from 1 to 2 inches up to different colored trouser legs.

       You will still treat it as the one item of clothing that while wearing you will do as few things as possible so as not to “ruin your suit.” And everyone knows they sew the pockets for a reason so don’t undo it the whole thing will come apart. I actually know someone who’s mother told them that. Either way it still only comes out once and awhile and you hate it, and why wouldn’t you, it’s ill-fitting, uncomfortable and just all around blah, and if you wear it more than twice a year it bursts into flames or unravels into a massive ball of static and twine at your feet.

       Suits are made for more than walking around in. Find a style you like, find a men’s clothing store, go in, get measured, and fitted and get a decent suit. Be prepared to upsize your trousers. Just like women’s clothing, jean’s have fake sizing to make you feel better about yourself, this is called “vanity sizing” (Really, look it up.)  If you wear a 34 inch waist in Levi’s or Tommy or whatever it is you wear, you will not, I repeat NOT be squeezing yourself into a 34 inch trouser. Be honest with yourself, sizes are number and they vary, get something that will fit no matter what the tag says or what you think you wear, or what you wear in jeans or t-shirts. Holding on to that “I wear this size” mentality in a Men’s clothing store will end up with you looking something like this…

      There are alternatives, with suits you still get what you pay for. I will harken back to the field work example. Once upon a time suits were the norm, and they took a beating. Everyday wear that was used.  Even today some suit pedants will tell you, don’t unsew the pockets it will cause your jacket to lose shape, or carrying a bag strap on your should will wrinkle your lapel. If you don’t buy something to use it, why buy it in the first place. (Show pickups are just one example). I cycle to work, I roll my jacket up and stick it in my saddle bag, it doesn’t get wrinkled or ruined in the time it takes me to get to work, and here is a secret, if a suit fits well, even if it is wrinkled (modestly) the wrinkles will fall out within about 5 minutes of wear. I also have stuff in the pockets inside and out, even have a pocket square (that breast pocket is a real pocket too, I even carry my sunglasses in it).

       Once you get suit that actually fits you and not a store mannequin, you will never look at clothing the same way again. They should quickly become your favorite clothes, and why wouldn’t they? They are tailored for you. Do things in them, if a suit is restrictive get rid of it and get another one, if it looks like you are wearing your dads, you might be able to get away with a tailoring, but probably best to start over. I have gotten the “You bike to work, in your suit?” A couple times already. Asked for the genuine concern from their mother’s incessant “you’ll ruin your suits” mantra. So with Fall coming on take the time to get some real threads and don’t be afraid to suit up, you’ll be glad you did.

Dino Dynasties

The title, borrowed from Katherine Rogers’ book, is a segue into a bit of rewritten familial ahistory on my part. The Sternberg family began collecting fossils with Edward Drinker Cope, and led to a family of vertebrate paleontologists. A son found the famous “fish within a fish” fossil. Many of the sternbergs finds were near where they lived.
I only mention them to begin this aside into my little piece of “what could of been.”

My great-great grandparents lived in Atoka, Ok. My great-great grandfather was born in Leonard, TX farmed a huge swath of southeastern Oklahoma and is buried in Atoka County. I have no idea where my great-great grandmother is buried, but that is not the point.

The point is, if James Benjamin Burnes had taken time out of his busy schedule of surviving he may have found this:

Arcanthrosaurus atokensis.  It is entirely possible that he would have found nothing as well, but when you come across things discovered within walking distance of a past family farm, in a formation named after a town that my great grandfather’s brother lived in the thought does cross ones mind. There were hundreds (probably not that many) of other people that lived there, and they would have been equally likely to find the fossils, but their descendants are not writing pointless what if blogs on the internet.

My background is Eocene mammals, so it isn’t quite as heartbreaking that atokensis isn’t our family crest fossil, but the idea still is a fun one. Besides, James Benjamin as a young man cuts quite the paleontological figure.

The Making of an Indiana Jones…

Beginning sometime near the end of the last century I worked mainly between three major identity crises. I had (still have) a common tendency to find common ground with a character in a movie or book and slip into some sort of anachronistic version of that person in the real world. The funny thing is pieces of each of them have stayed and wedged firmly into the makings of a psyche that is truly unique. After swillowing between the likes of Don Johnson’s Marlboro Man, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, and Elvis high school finally ended and I was able to make a clean slate and move into the more lucrative field of college.

Actually the first go round gave little change to the situation at hand and I had to wait six years to find some kind of direction.  In 2006, however, I began again.  This time I soaked up all that the world of higher education had to offer. In a few years, quite without trying I developed a lasting image on campus, all it took was a fedora. I have always worn some kind of hat, and began a daily wearing of a fedora not long after beginning college for the second time.  Soon after I was invited to begin paleontological field work in the Uinta Basin in Utah.  Working in the desert of America’s southwest, sifting through Eocene dirt for microfossils became the highlight of the year.  I was still into Archaeology though, and took off for a Maya field school in the Orange Walk District of Belize. Hosted by the University of Texas, I learned many things about what it took to be a lifetime academic archaeologist. I also made some of the best friends I have ever had.  This reinforced the nomenclature that had taken hold back home. I was Indiana Jones.

I pondered on this a bit, and with the study of the history of field explorations in the American west for fossils, and further research into Archaeology led me to the conclusion that for as many people that take on the persona of the world famous archaeologist, there are nearly as many people behind the character.  Over the next few chapters here, I will look at some of the more famous, and perhaps infamous versions of the man that has came to be the most famous Archaeologist of all time.  Some of the names will be familiar, some may be new, each have some claim to the “inspiration of the character Indiana Jones.” But the truth resides somewhere out there in the abyss of popular culture, popular perception of exploration, and popular accounts of those same explorations, usually by the explorers running the show.

Let’s look at what we know about Dr. Jones historically, not counting the novels, or the prequel series. Every child born in the 80s should have grown up with the Dr. Jones stories. The Raiders of the Lost Ark is film classic that has gained a cult following without actually being a <shudder> cult film. This happens when movies are just good. Everything is great about this movie, except many professional archaeologist disagree with the methods and adventure going on in the film. And they should, there lives are filled with countless hours of dedicated research, painstakingly publishing findings, and the delicate dance of back-stabbing while avoiding being stabbed in the back. The closer the profession deals with humanities origins, outcomes, arts, evolution, the more cutthroat the game. Either way, great fun, great movie, great hero of the ages.

Number 2. Well, that is what it is. This movie had such promise, great location, great mythology, dark storyline, pretty awesome movie poster, even a comical little asian kid. What could possibly go wrong? Kate Capshaw, that’s what. I have watched countless hours of television and film (years if you do the math) and there are rarely few times I dislike someone in a movie more than her in this film.  I remember thinking as a child that this was an ill placement.  I remember wishing as an adolescence that someone would just kill the bitch in he first few scenes and let Ford and Shortround carry out the adventure on their own. Alas, that did not happen and this poor, poor, length of heat exposed tape remained the least favorite of the trilogy for decades. It was a sure way to decide on friendships: if person in question ever said that the Temple of Doom was their favorite film, you immediately (even subconsciously) removed them from your list of people you ever knew and with little help tried to find an open construction site in which to drop them into a cement mixer.

What could save such an awesome work of cinema from its horrid sequel? Sean Connery, of course. Probably the best all around film to come out of the decade (Ghostbusters are up there in the running, you’ll understand why I vote for Aykroyd later) It had everything the original had, and nothing that the sequel had, and that was a great combination. The only complaint I have about this great ending to a trilogy is how they treated the beloved Sallah. In the original he was a trusted, capable, and noble friend. In this he ends up more like a bumbling sidekick for comic relief. Knights, The Holy Grail, and melting Nazis, what is not to love.

Many, *MANY*, fans will tell you that there were ever only three and they steadfastly refuse to even discuss the fact that there might have been rumours of a fourth installment. The power of this thought process is legendary, look at how the whole world has forgotten the first Hulk movie and the demon-hulk-poodle. But, for the record there was a fourth installment. What was bad about it…aliens, Shia Labeouf, Ox being a mental invalid through most of the film, Connery not coming out of retirement…What was good about it…<chirp, chirp>… There were some good things, it happened in South America, we got another Indiana Jones movie, who Shia Labeouf was, the intricate contraption that housed the ending of the movie, the conquistador mummies, and my personal favorite: “If you untie me I am going to punch you in the face” <untie> *punch.*

The ending of the series has left us again without a hero archeologist. It has also left us with a trilogy boxed set and a loose fourth dvd that we bought to have the whole set even though we never watch 2 and 4. There’s the background on how I see it, and possibly How I came to be. Working backward from me to the movies to the men behind the myth I hope to shed some light for myself and possibly others on what makes an Indiana Jones.

For the record, I still wear Don Johnson’s vests from Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, I still have severely oversized sideburns, I still wear hats, and depending on just how nihilistic I feel upon awakening I may or may not wear my blood-stained smiley face button to work. I was also told I could not dress up as Rick O’Connell from the Mummy movies for halloween because it needed to be “something I did not wear every day.”Regardless of all that has been built upon, it is an undeniable fact that the older I get the more I look like Dan Aykroyd. But, hey, he is helping fund Dr. Phil Currie and team’s dino digs in Canada, so why not. And there was Ghostbusters.  

How do all these equate to an Indiana Jones?