Map Inspiration

Ed Fairburn - North America

I love love love working with GIS. This is largely due to GIS requiring problem solving and allowing for more creativity than is typical in archaeology. At the end of last semester I got pretty into using random images to generate colour palettes to use in ArcGIS. Now, I am looking forward to all the figures I will need to create for my thesis. One of my goals for my thesis is to keep as much of my personality in it, which I will have to battle my supervisor in order to do so. Maps are going to be a main proponent of this.

Here are the latest maps that I have come across that I have been added to my growing catalogue of maps that I use for inspiration. In archaeology, cartographic expression needs to balanced with sensitivity for the content you are included and the seriousness of the academic discipline. I am going to try to push those boundaries a bit further than I have typically been comfortable with in the upcoming year.


Ed Fairburn

The most amazing artists I have come across in a while. It lights up my heart to look at these. Check out his website. 

Ed Fairburn – North America

Ed Fairburn- Der Gestirnte Himmel/The Starry Heavens

Ed Fairburn- Pennsylvania

Andrew Joyce x Oberlin University

Andrew Joyce x Oberlin University

Romain Trystram - Aswad lanes 1

Romain Trystram – Aswad lanes 1


Calgary C-Train Map – Super Mario 3 Style – Dave Delisle


Also, here is the new song that I am officially addicted too as of an hour ago:

Best opening line to an academic paper I have ever seen:

“The standard by which we as archaeologists have often judged defensiveness is similar to the way in which US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart judged hard-core pornography: we know it when we see it. And to a certain extent, we do.”

This paper come up in my Google Scholar Alert this week, and I was blown away by how fantastic the opening line was. Perfect. Attention keeping, funny, and seriously ACCURATE.

The paper is about evaluating the defensibility of sites on the Northwest Coast of America. After reading the first line, I was sold on the paper. (ok, I haven’t read it yet-but I will!) I am pretty sure it was written by a (gutsy) PhD student. Why aren’t more academics willing to take risks in their writing?


Kyle Bocinsky, R.

2014  Extrinsic site defensibility and landscape-based archaeological inference: An example from the Northwest Coast. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 35: 164–176.

Optimism for life after grad school

My oldest brother finished his Master’s in computer science and now works for a software company. This week he returned to the University of Calgary to give a talk to graduate students in computer science (CS) about non-academic jobs. After talking to him about his experience I was really surprised by the amount of CS graduate students that want to stay in academia.  He said a lot of them didn’t want to work in Industry and saw it as a downgrade from research. In anthropology and archaeology you hear this a lot and I always thought that it was because the range of industry jobs just aren’t appealing. I thought that these outside jobs would be super attractive to people with a computer background because there were so many options and opportunities to make money. My running hypothesis is that people just don’t want change and that once you’ve been in school your whole life the alternative is terrifying. But I think that it is also important that anthropologists realize they aren’t alone in this anxiety. I constantly think that I should have done a degree related to computers because I would have so many more job options, but now I am thinking that it is all about perspective (well, a bit about perspective).

My brother sent me the presentation that he gave the students and I’ve pulled out a few of my favourite career tips:

  • Network. Or don’t work.
    • Chance of getting the job when you apply without knowing anyone: 1:100
    • Chance of getting the job when you are referred: 1:4
  • Find somewhere you can learn and grow
  • University is partly about who you surround yourself with. Your peers inspire and push you to be better, to do your best. That’s the kind of culture you want to find in a company.
  • Become poly-skilled
  • Grad school challenges the individual; industry challenges the group to work together as a team. (This is probably my favourite quote for the presentation)
  • There’s 40 YEARS of work ahead of you… what’s the rush?! (Just like what my mom said when I wanted to dye my hair when I was 12)
  • Don’t be scared to try something out of your boundaries
  • Take career chances before you get locked down with a mortgage, marriage, and kids
  • If you don’t want to go to work in the morning, start looking for a new job.
  • Spend more time making it easy to receive and respond to feedback—spend less time trying to get it right
  • Do more, try more, drink less (maybe when I am 30)

I think that I am naïve, but honestly, I am not that worried about getting a good job once I finish my M.A.  My dad works for a company in Alberta that builds oilrigs. He told me today his company hires more people with arts degrees than people with science backgrounds. This shocked me.  In my brother’s presentation I found out that the software company that he works for does ethnographies for their clients to figure out the needs of the business and the end users.
One reason anthropologists are depressed about their career prospects could be because they fail to look beyond the obvious job listings. Even when you look at an Anthropology department’s website, the careers they list tend to be super tradition- museums, government, plus a few private sector listings.

 I suspect that my optimism for my career future is in part due to being raised in Alberta where getting a job isn’t as stressful as some other places in Canada. The issue is going to be finding a job that doesn’t require selling my soul to the oil sands industry. Also, I have been thinking that if I apply the same amount of energy that I put into archaeology and invest it into something else, I am going to excel. I love archaeology, but I think I love it so much because I have encapsulated myself into it. I can apply all that love and hard work into something else and still be happy. Plus get paid.

In Grad School A- is the new F

Here is my latest running theory:

Grad school is a stressful place. Although a person can do things to manage their stress and counteract it, the nature of the beast isn’t going to change. Recently I have been thinking about what makes grad school so much worse than being in your undergrad and one of the things that I think has been largely ignored is the lack of endorphins that grad students get.

When doing an undergrad degree, students get feedback more often based on tests and assignments that is generally reflective of their performance. I could slave away at a paper or study for hours, and when I received that high grade it would act as justification for all my effort. Working hard in your undergrad is rewarded with high marks, and when you achieve this your brain releases those delicious ‘feel-good’ chemicals. Well grad school is different. Grades seem to be less reflective of your effort. A- is the new F. Your advisor suffers if they give you less than an A because you will no longer be competitive for scholarships and grants. So when you get that A it doesn’t feel good quite the way it did in your undergrad.

I think people live more balanced lives in their undergrad, or at least I did. Grad school is a lot of stress filled with numerous occasions where your self-confidence is shattered. And instead of counter-balancing these lows with moments of redemption, words of praise are few and far between. Of course you can turn to your peer group for support but the majority of time with them is spent commiserating about everyone’s shitty situation and it doesn’t make sense to rely on them to boost you when they are in the same situation.

Graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint. I understand that. I just wish there were more mechanisms in place that could balance out all of the lows that come from this ordeal. I will be honest- I’m desperate for a pat on the back. Also, I know if it ever does come, I am going to cherish it.



I recently saw this video on this guy’s blog and I agree with the guy that students just want to be told how good they are. I guess there is this idea circulating that children grow up with their parents constantly telling them how special they are and then when they reach adulthood they are deprived of that reinforcement. This is probably true but still…. Don’t wean me off too early! I guess one alternative is actually exercising to start attaining those spikes of endorphins, but who has time for that?

How to write an inspiring article and how not to

I agree with Sally that this blog post was particularly hard to write because it was difficult to think of an article that I have read that would qualify as being ‘bad’. At minimum all articles go through a screening process and must be good enough to pass that. I tried to recall articles that I had read but really disliked, but my distaste for them was always related to their methods and analysis and not their style of writing. Below I have written about two articles on Northwest Coast Archaeology that could not be more different. There is one that inspires the reader and is able to take information from one site and make it relevant to a broad audience. The other does the opposite, it is drones on about one region, is unappealing to the specialists and scares off the generalist with its unenthusiastic summary.

Cannon, Aubrey and Dongya Y Yang

2006 Early Storage and Sedentism on the Pacific Northwest Coast : Ancient DNA Analysis of Salmon Remains from Namu, British Columbia. American Antiquity 71(1): 123–140.

Finding an article that I thought was well written was quite easy and immediately I knew that I needed to write about this article by Cannon and Yang. I promise I am trying not to be biased because Dr. Cannon is my supervisor. This is the first article I ever read of his and since then I have read it multiple times, each time with a different reason for examining the content.

The reason that I think article is so great is because it is convincing to readers who may be approaching it from multiple perspectives. The first time I read this paper was for my ancient DNA course and at that time I was focused on the descriptions the authors gave for their methodology. Did they follow proper contamination protocols? Were their results verified at an independent lab? Reading it a few years later I was more focused on the interpretation of the results in relation to their implications for the site of Namu. Three years separated the time that I read this paper and my expectations were completely different, yet both times I was able to find the right kinds of information and explanations in the paper.

Cannon and Yang were able to reach an impressive balance between including technically specific jargon related to their scientific methodologies and include a thorough explanation of how their results contribute to archaeological interpretations of Northwest Coast prehistory. This demonstrates the authors’ ability to reach a broad audience, a necessary quality for their paper because the implications affect a wide range of people in the archaeological community. I have found that many papers in archaeology that deal with scientific analysis focus mostly on their methodology and results, with smaller sections dedicated to the context and interpretations. This often may be a result of the kind of journals they are published in. For Cannon and Yang this seems to be the opposite, where the heavy science content is sandwiched between thorough discussions of Northwest Coast archaeology. By publishing in American Antiquity the authors had more leeway to include longer interpretations than they would have if they had chosen to submit to a more narrowly science archaeology journal.

I believe that the subject matter of this paper made it essential for the authors to methodically structure their writing and make sure their arguments were represented well. This paper has significance implications for some of the long-held theories for the emergence of social complexity on the Northwest Coast. Although it is not the first paper to argue against this theory, its implications may not have been well received by many archaeologists working in the area. Furthermore, from my limited understanding of the ancient DNA community in archaeology, it seems researchers are both extremely competitive and critical of each other’s work. I believe that Cannon and Yang validated their methodology and fit their results into the context of Northwest Coast archaeology well enough to satisfy most critics.

Ames, Kenneth M

1998    Economic Prehistory of the Northern British Columbia Coast. Arctic Anthropology 35(1):   68–87.

I chose this paper by Ames not because I think it is bad, but because when compared to Ames’ other work this paper seems weak. Of all of the researchers on the Northwest Coast, Ames appears to have this uncanny ability to synthesize large amounts of work and present them to audiences in a clear concise matter. This ability is why Ames has a full-length book about Northwest Coast archaeology and why he was selected to write the Annual Review of Anthropology (1994) for the region. Compared to all of his other summary articles I found this one to be completely dry, almost written in a monotone voice.

The author presents no new information in this article, which is understandable because it is a synthesis of work done in the region. However, Ames rarely takes a new approach or spin to the work that would have provided another perspective. If his intentional reader were someone who knows little about the archaeology of northern British Columbia than this article would be a suitable place to start. But if someone who was more versed with this region than this article would be one that could be skipped without fear of missing anything new. In exactly the opposite way of Cannon and Yang (2006), Ames has written an article that speaks to a very narrow audience. There would be little reason for anyone to read it that wasn’t interested in this area because it’s implications are not wide reaching.

Instead of offering any original information, the article could have been impressive if it shed new light on older research and gave it a resurgence of life. Ames drones on, culture period after culture period, without getting excited about anything specific. Arguably the most energetic to author gets is in his inclusion of information about dogs and the shifts in their socioeconomic role. I think that when summarizing the research of an area, the author needs to find a balance of including the right amount of content but then also highlighting areas that are either particularly interesting or important.

My critic of Ames stated in the most colloquial way, was that it was boring and uninspiring. The details are not good enough to be targeted for anyone with enough experience in the area. If it is targeted for an audience without a background then the most they will get from it is a list of facts and not an improved understanding of the main points of contention of archaeology in the region. My disappointment in this lack-lustre article is heighten because Ames write about Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert Harbour, two of the most beautiful places in British Columbia that are blessed to also have really exciting archaeology there. Perhaps this article is an example of how if an author lacks any excitement about his topic, it becomes difficult for the reader to also be enthusiastic.

Help calculating Topographic Exposure in ArcGIS

Hey Internet/GIS Friends,

I need you help trying to calculate Topographic Exposure (TOPEX) on a DEM in ArcGIS. I am trying to figure out wind exposure on a DEM with 25m cells.


There is a great blog post where someone explains how to do it but he uses GRASS. I thought I would be able to put the same equation into ArcGIS Raster Calculator but it says the equation is invalid. I’ve tried playing with it as much as I can but I can’t seem to make it work.

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 9.59.25 AM

Does anyone know how the equation should appear in Raster Calculator in either ArcGIS or QGIS?

Non-academic Careers in Anthropology

Today the Department of Anthropology at McMaster held a workshop session on non-academic careers in anthropology. In my opinion it was the best graduate workshop they have held this year. A huge issue I have had with my education at McMaster has been the heavy focus on grooming their student for academic jobs but still warning us against the perils that face this career choice. I don’t blame them, I think it is pretty ingrained in the structure of the system. Apparently they are hoping to hold one of these sessions once per semester. I applaud their choice to do this as for a while it seemed that most of my career advice was coming from HBO’s Girls- or at least what not to do.

There was a panel of three alumni from McMaster who had careers related to anthropology. You can read their bio’s here. I was surprised by the amount of research they still engaged in and how directly related to anthropology their jobs were. The three people were:

Marcia Barron (PhD 1999, Cultural Anthropology/Applied Anthropology)

Andrew Galley (PhD 2012, Cultural Anthropology/Anthropology of Health)

Cadell Last (BA 2011, Biological Anthropology) –

Adhering to the lists that I appreciate most from blogs, here is a quick summary of some of the insightful points that were discussed:

  • Cadell was a huge advocate for creating an online presence to establish yourself as an authority in your specialty
  • Focus of the general research skills you acquire in graduate school (could have been more specific about this) – combing qualitative and quantitative data
  • Articulate clearly why you as an anthropologists can help people
  • Communicating why anthropology and your research matters to a broad range of audiences. Pay attention to popular science
  • Avoid isolating yourself in academia- create a blog to go along with class assignments and research projects. Putting your work online will improve how you communicate with others.
  • Have conversations with your supervisor about career planning and your goals. (We’ll see about this one. I still haven’t told me supervisor about my intentions of not continuing to my PhD because I am worried about his reaction)
  • The difficult situation people in grad school are in where their closest friends are also their competitors- I haven’t really dealt with this yet except slightly through grants and scholarships. Still, I strongly believe that Your success shouldn’t be dependent on the failure of others
  • Make it easy for people to contact you through your blog- whoops, I gotta do this. I’m sure people are dying to privately message me about my gif choices.
  • They did have some good ideas about being online curators of science content and the possibility of summarizing academic papers into short clear recaps. I write annotated bibliographies all the time. I don’t think my supervisor even reads them so I might as well be putting them online. I would have appreciated reading other people’s annotated biblios while I was in my undergraduate.
  • An excellent point was raised about how co-op degrees and internships are promoted in your undergraduate but we haven’t figured out how these fit into graduate education. I would love to do an internship but I think it would be too big of a sacrifice at this point.
  • Props to Andy for bringing up what a supervisor’s role is in professional development of graduate students. I like to think that it could be a partnership rather than a solitary effort.

Anyhow, I am grateful this session was held and I was happy to see many people turned out. We were able to go to the bar for beers and snacks after. *I have a solid rant about this that I need to get out of my system- so ask me in person.

Last note: Simon Fraser University launched a new professional Master’s program in Big Data that is set to begin Fall 2014.  Seems awesome and a great use of time that will prepare you for an emerging job sector. The website implies that a background in computer programming is recommended. I wonder if they will be able to accommodate for students without this computer science background? If so, I think this may be a good option once I finish my MA.



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