Tuesday, November 5, 2013


When I'm reading a book and I get really engrossed in something, I sometimes feel a tickling in my brain.

This sounds alarming, but it's really not. That's the sensation of learning new things and creating new patterns of thought. Even after a torrid, decades-long affair with the printed word, it's still startling enough to break me out of my reverie and check over my shoulder, to make sure someone's not tickling me with a feather.

It's the feeling you get when one puzzle piece fits into another or when you wire up an outlet and a light pops on. It's like realizing the twist of a well-written screenplay, and feeling the wind knocked out of you, but in a good way.,

I can picture exactly what it looks like, too. Remember the old myth about the brain developing a new wrinkle every time it learns something? That tickle is your gray matter stretching and creasing, in a way that it just now figured out.

In college, that tickle is how I knew that I was onto something, and that I'm just made forward progress. The faintest little sensation in my cranium now makes me lean forward in my chair and reach for a notepad. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, signalling that you're on the right track.

Sadly, it's a sensation that I feel less and less nowadays, as work, daily life and other obligations take up more and more time, leaving less time for reading. But today, I'm not doing much of anything, and I cracked open a book. And there it was, hidden somewhere between chapters 3 and 4.

Hello, old friend.

*     *     *     *     *

Do you suspect that the tickling is actually a nest of tiny spiders that just hatched in my brain? If you're a medical professional and you know the cure for spider-brain, please post it the space below. Quickly.

Friday, August 30, 2013

An Introduction to Google SketchUp

A few weeks ago I vowed to post about a program I've been using called Google SketchUp. Today is the day that I keep my vow.

SketchUp allows anybody with a computer and a decent internet connection to model existing and historical buildings in 3 dimensions. One of the best features of the program is called "Match Photo," in which the user uploads a photograph, lays out dimensions along the X, Y, and Z axes, and draws their structure using some very intuitive tools. If you assign your drawing a scale, SketchUp will even infer what the building's dimensions are, enabling you to create your models quickly and accurately.

2D views of my model of the historical Main Gate of the Charlestown Navy Yard were posted in the Portfolio section several days ago. For the last four days, I've been sparring with Google's 3D Warehouse, trying to convince it to accept an uploaded file of my work. Today it listened to reason, and I now present for your viewing pleasure the restored digital Main Gate.

This is the first of many models to come, because I have big plans for Google's modeling program for the masses. Click the following link to see the 3D view on Google's 3D Warehouse, and check back soon to see more.

Main Gate, Charlestown Navy Yard (Historical):

The main gate of the Charlestown Navy Yard ( historically referred to as the Boston Navy Yard) was constructed in 1903, on the site of the current Gate 1 of Boston National Historical Park.

3D model by

Monday, August 26, 2013

National Trust Re-Post!

The 2nd article I wrote for HistPres.com, "The Devil's Advocate Guide to National Register Listing," has been re-posted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation! See it here. And if you didn't get the chance to see the original post in its original form, go and visit Meagan and Laura over at HistPres.


In other news, the Portfolio section has been updated with more samples of boxes I'm trying to tick while pursuing Humanities employment in a terrible economy. We have some 3D Modeling, some Grant-Writing, and some Exhibit Development, with more to come. So check them out. After you read the article, of course.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Update! August 10

I blinked, and now the summer's almost over. And I realize that I haven't posted for a while. I have no excuses except for the usual ones, like work, looking for work, side projects, and the occasional nap. So here's my last four weeks in a nutshell.

WORK. The summer may be winding down, but you wouldn't know it to see the crowds outside of Boston National Historical Park these last few weeks. Every tour we've sent out, every talk we've given at one or another historical site, every time we've had to resuscitate one of our rangers because they drew out a sentence too long, it's all been observed by hundreds of people. Where does the time go? God only knows. It's probably lost. Like everyone else in Boston's cow-path streets.

INTERVIEW! The first interview I've had in almost a year. It was for a preservation organization in Boston, and while I didn't get the job, I was able to muster some excellent references (thanks, Meagan and Laurie!) and put together a pretty good portfolio. Just getting brought in for the interview was exciting; it means that I must be doing something right.

ARTICLE PUBLISHED! Meagan and Laura over at HistPres.com recently published a second article of mine, "The Devil's Advocate Guide to National Register Listing." It's already been shared a few dozen times on Facebook, and it's going to be re-posted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation later this month. So that's cool. Check out the links: give Meagan and Laura a visit, and go heckle me on their forums. All the cool kids are doing it.

GOOGLE SKETCHUP! I've been wanting to write a blog post about this amazing program for months now, and I just can't seem to make the time. Let's just say that it's 3D modeling software used by many historical institutions, from preservation organizations to museums, and it has enormous potential for the field of digital history. I made a few models for my portfolio, and a few have been submitted to Google Earth to be vetted and uploaded to the internet. Expect to see more on this subject in the next few months.

FREELANCING! Throughout the last year or so, I've been networking like crazy. Since most historical organizations are going through tough times financially, and very few are hiring permanent, full-time employees, and the few that are are being overrun by applications from PhD's with centuries of experience, I thought that some of these organizations might be interested in contracting out some work to reasonably priced freelancers. So I've been gathering references and letters of recommendation, brushing up my dozens of resumes, and meeting as many people as possible. And it finally seems to be paying off! I've been in contact with several institutions who are interested in the possibility of working together. I'm not going to say who (it'll ruin the suspense!), but I'll definitely post updates once I get them myself.

That's all. Check back. Cheers.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Car made of People

Ah, Linked-In. I'm still not completely convinced that this Facebook for networkers is worth the time and the effort that I put into it, but I'd rather use it and not need it than need it and not use it. In any case, while updating my profile summary today I got my brain juices flowing, and now I can eloquently explain why I do what I do.

To get into the obligatory metaphor, ever since Henry Ford popularized the automobile for the American public, cars have been getting more sophisticated and more complex. A repair that a mechanic could have completed without incident 10 years ago now requires a specialist. In recent years, cars have incorporated increasing numbers of electronics, specialized equipment, and luxury items. One guy can fix your built-in GPS, but you need to see a different guy about the problem with your electric windows, or the gauges in your dashboard.

Likewise, humanity is becoming increasingly diverse and complex. In an increasingly crowded and competitive world, the struggle to succeed individually while co-existing with other individuals is getting more and more complicated. Billions of people all trying to exist together, and at the same time trying to improve that existence for as much of humanity as possible. And being social animals, they create millions of political, social, and cultural institutions, groups and organizations, sorting themselves into these different factions based on their unique personal outlooks.

If you think of the human race like an automobile, each person and faction of persons represents a part in an enormous machine that needs constant maintenance. Each part intersects with the others in different ways, and sometimes the gears don't mesh and the oil doesn't pump. When different portions of humanity have contradictory needs, you get wars, social unrest, decreasing resources, and all sorts of nasty things.

Seriously though, this is bad. To address these problems, you need to understand their causes. To understand their causes you need to study all sorts of interesting fields, like economics (it's interesting to some people!) psychology, sociology, and... you guessed it... history. Think of each one of these fields as a different bit on a souped-up spy car. Studying each one will help you figure out how a different part of human society functions. But to get a feel for the entire complicated blueprint of human existence, you need to crack open a history book, because this is a manual that will let you know how a tiny portion of those parts have interacted in the past.

I went into this field because I like to know why things are the way that they are. Studying the past allows you to understand the present, but also to make preparations for the future. The more I learn about the origins of modern institutions, the better equipped I am to plan my own life.

And this is exactly why the recent, persistent cuts to American humanities and social sciences are such bad news not only to social science majors, but to the nation as a whole. The human machine is not going to stop changing, or even slow the process. Governments and individuals are constantly blundering into situations that a quick review of the historical record would reveal as an easily avoidable mistake. Would you trust a mechanic who didn't understand how your car brakes function? Human society is infinitely more complicated, with more parts than the most technologically advanced car, and we're not even close to understanding how all of those parts work. It's going to take a LOT of mechanics to keep that work going, but that won't happen if these fields are continually being looted of funding.

Here's hoping that the brakes don't give out.