Monthly Archives: August 2006

Papa’s Got a Brand New Blog

Switched to this here WordPress.com blog from Blogger. Mostly because of categories. And because my academic blog is on WordPress (but hosted on a university server). The beta version of Blogger does have labels, which work better than WordPress categories. And my Blogger account has recently been allowed to switch to the beta version. So, new blog:
Disparate 2

Not sure about switching to Blogger again. It’ll depend on the possibility to integrate other Google products. One major advantage of Blogger over WordPress.com is that templates are fully customizable. At this point, the main thing for me is that Javascript can be embedded so that Technorati can be integrated directly in the template. This has been possible in the previous version of Blogger but the new version makes it really simple.

Advantages of WordPress.com, at this point include a more complete blogroll mechanism (with OPML import, categories…), more post options, pages (though GooglePages makes this point moot), Akismet, more comment moderation features, and a few more sidebar widgets. But Blogger has better penetration (which is a benefit when using a Blogger account to post comments elsewhere), the interface is less cluttered, and the whole blogging system seems more like a complete system (while WordPress.com is more of a “lite” version of WordPress). If my new blog gets more comments than this one, the switch will make a lot of sense.

We’ll see.

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Beethoven’s Fifths

JSTOR: Musical Times: Vol. 80, No. 1154, p. 257

Beethoven: “Well, who has prohibited the use of fifths like these?”

Ries: “Bless me, they are forbidden by the very fundamental rules of harmony . . . By Marpurg, Kirnberger, Fux, every theorist who has ever written on the subject.”

Beethoven: “Well, they may have forbidden them, but I allow them.”


Coffee Brewing Methods

Got this discussion going on CoffeeGeek for a while now.

CoffeeGeek – Coffee: Machines and Brewing Methods, Confessions of a Brikka Lover
There are so many ways to make coffee:

Moka pots, vac pots, Turkish pots, Neapolitan pots, press pots, drip pots, percolators, balance brewers, AeroPress, Clover, semi-automatic espresso machines, super-automatic espresso machines, manual espresso machines, pod machines…


Adding It Up

Been thinking. Yes, it’s dangerous. But it does happen to any of us.

Starting up with my own comments about Yu Koyo Peya and Jared Diamond’s Collapse. It’s no secret that Diamond’s approach often clashes with the anthropological tendency toward critical thinking. But still…
From The Matrix, Agent Smith saying that humans are a disease. The YKP on-screen message that “civilization” (however defined) is the disease. A further claim could be that a specific civilization is a disease. Fun to think about. Where does it lead us, exactly? And, really, what do we mean by “civilization” in those cases? State-level “democracy” based on the illusion of national identity and individual autonomy, and motivated by market economy? And that’s all so important why, exactly? After all, there are alternatives of different types and in different places

Haven’t read Diamond’s books but it’s quite likely that Collapse in fact describes the decline of a specific social model. Actually, to a Québécois, the recent tribute to Rémy Girard’s career makes the analogy even more salient. Some have asked what year the U.S. were stuck in. Some date between 410 and 476 would be many people’s guess. But it could be later.

It might be the end of Occidentalism. Or, simply, perceived radical changes based on a series of significant events.

It reminds me of a well-known Swiss novel and a movie made about it. English-speakers would likely think of Chicken Little. Again, windmills and shelters.
Many events are connected to these times. From the end of the Cold War to Hurricane Katrina. From a climate of terror and paranoia to the rise of Chindia. From the Washington Consensus to notions of terrorists and freedom fighters,

There’s no conspiracy. Just a bunch of loosely linked social changes on a rather large but still very limited stage.
What are we to do?

Look further than the end of our collective nose?


University Rankings and Diversity, Redux

For some reason, responding to comments on my own entries doesn’t seem to work.

Jason points out McGill University as an example of the phenomenon discussed in own of my most recent entries:

University Rankings and Diversity « Disparate

And it’s exactly the case that McG fits the pattern. But they’re not alone. Some schools in the U.S. (with pretensions of being top-notch academic institutions) are even more deeply entrenched in this educational philosophy favouring prestige over knowledge.

Ah, well…

Good thing there’s such a thing as Concordia University.


Sizing Up the Geek Crowd

Rocketboom interview with Steve Rubel

Like Delagrave and Bergeron, Rubel got it. And it goes much beyond marketing, brands, or even economy. Geeks are at the forefront of something. They have an impact. Not a direct impact on sales of a specific product. But geeks are trailblazers and, sometimes, trendsetters in the social changes which are already happening. They’re not causing the change. But they’re riding the waves of social change. Some waves will die quickly, others will carry many people to an interesting place. As in STF, creating windmills, not shelters.

This is also connected to a recent discussion I had, at a nice brewpub, with a member of Siebel Institute’s faculty. We were talking about beer geeks and their impact on craft beer sales. Not only are beer geeks like computer geeks but it turns out that there might be a clear historical relation between the Pacific Coast computer industry, the rise of latte drinking, and the craft beer revolution. As beer and coffee are among my passions, I find this link fascinating.

At any rate, this faculty member’s point was that large breweries shouldn’t care much about beer geeks as they (we) don’t drive sales of specific products. One of the main arguments here is that geeks aren’t faithful to a brand. Geeks want diversity. Beer geeks want as many different beers as possible.

It’s pretty much the same thing throughout the geek crowd. Talk about empowered “consumers”


Music, Food, Industries, Piracy

000ady6y (PNG Image, 200×125 pixels)

Noticed it in Steal This Film. A very appropriate message. Process over product. Music is not a commodity. Food does not grow on profits.

Blogged with Flock


Cartier à Cap-Rouge

Cartier settlement

The story of the discovery itself is fascinating and it does resolve an important issue.


Instructors and Open Textbooks

Freeload Press is publishing difficult-to-read textbooks as free, ad-supported downloads.

Interestingly, the Slashdot thread sparked by this news item revolves more around the issue of cost-prohibitive textbooks than around ideological issues surrounding advertisement in publication. Several of the dozens of comments in that thread are quite insightful, including some below the moderators’ radar.

Here’s my own comment on that thread, slightly edited.

My 2¢ as an instructor (cultural anthropology, African studies, linguistic anthropology, ethnomusicology).

Contrary to what some people seem to think, some of us instructors do care about the price of textbooks. Many of us see textbooks as a necessary evil and some of us get almost allergic reactions when sales representatives from publishing houses come to our offices. (Got several visits and calls myself, even as a visiting lecturer.) For those of us who care about reasonably-priced textbooks, some publishing houses’ practises are anti-competitive and unfair.
Case in point. Decided to use a short, inexpensive textbook for one of my introductory-level classes, two semesters in a row. Price and length did have an impact on my decision (the textbook was itself better than more expensive ones). It was published just in time for the first of those semesters and cost about 40$ at that point. The second semester, without notifying me, the publisher had bundled that textbook with another book. The bundle was 60$. Not that expensive. But my students still had to buy something that we never used.
One problem for an instructor, when the textbook is cost-prohibitive, is that students are more likely to complain if the course doesn’t follow the textbook very closely. Secondly, different editions are often confusing in the changes that they imply (much more so than software releases!) and it’s difficult for an instructor to keep track of all of those discrepancies. Not to mention that an expensive textbook may discourage students from buying other material for that subject.
According to someone close to me who used to work at a publishing house, textbooks are the main source of income for several publishers. A bit like “hits” for record labels, but students aren’t free to choose textbooks as they please.
Obviously, the financial model is skewed.

Those issues should be enough to encourage everyone to adopt a new model. But there’s even more.
Textbooks are typically written by a handful of authors who may be well qualified for explaining several of the issues included in those textbooks but who still have areas of limited expertise. The result in cultural anthropology, for instance, is that textbook chapters on language are usually full of inaccuracies while chapters on the authors’ areas of expertise appear quite decent. In some cases, an instructor might even end up having to “fight the textbook” instead of using it as a reference.
Online material accompanying textbooks in some disciplines generally seem like an afterthought instead of representing a central part of the approach. The ultimate effect is that students get disinterested in that material and will come to rely on other (and often unreliable) sources.
While some publishers offer instructors the possibility to use material from different books, these sources should all be from the same publisher. So an instructor can’t use Chapter 3 from Jane Smith’s textbook published by one of Thomson’s many subsidiaries and Chapter 4 from Amy Johnson’s textbook published by Oxford University Press. How can we get a diversity of viewpoints, in such a situation?

The solution, IMVHO? Open textbooks. Teaching material based on an open content model. Supported by instructors and their institutions. With a flexible, modular design.
Yes, Wikibooks may be part of that solution. But there are other issues to think about. How do we motivate instructors to contribute content to such a project? Does it count for tenure? Who will lead the effort to complete such a textbook? How can we integrate those books in our teaching? Will students use those textbooks the way they were intended or discount them based on perceived lack of quality? Are students without Internet access out of luck? Who will provide “technical” support to students and instructors? How can we produce affordable dead-tree copies for those who need them? How can we make deals with publishers to integrate excerpts from primary texts? How can we share material to instructors without giving too much away to students? How can we integrate this material with course management systems like Moodle (and, for the unlucky ones, even Blackboard)?

Still, if we get together, as students, administrators, and instructors, we can eventually solve all of these issues and, hopefully, challenge prevailing models of academic publication.


Computer Frustration

Been using computers intensively and extensivelty since 1987. Never had the urge to throw a computer out the window as much as this one, running Windows XP Pro.

Gah!

It becomes completely irresponsive through the simples tasks, like editing text in a browser.

It’s probably time for Ubuntu.


University Rankings and Diversity

Speaking of Concordia University, it is officially taking position in favour of international principles for university rankings instead of those set out by a magazine.
Full Press Release

Concordia uses two of the items in the list of Purposes and Goals of Rankings for the Berlin Principles to explain its decision not to participate in the magazine ranking.

3. Recognize the diversity of institutions and take the different missions and goals of institutions into account. Quality measures for research-oriented institutions, for example, are quite different from those that are appropriate for institutions that provide broad access to underserved communities. Institutions that are being ranked and the experts that inform the ranking process should be consulted often.

5. Specify the linguistic, cultural, economic, and historical contexts of the educational systems being ranked. International rankings in particular should be aware of possible biases and be precise about their objective. Not all nations or systems share the same values and beliefs about what constitutes “quality” in tertiary institutions, and ranking systems should not be devised to force such comparisons.

Through these items, an image of institutional diversity seems to emerge. Concordia, instead of focusing on prestige or pseudo-objective measures of student satisfaction, proposes an educational philosophy with an emphasis on diversity and flexibility. Perhaps because of this philosophy, Concordia is an ideal context for me to teach and learn. Not that it necessarily deserves the highest ranking in surveys. But that it represents very precisely the type of place where people care about actual knowledge more than about public recognition. Public recognition can help some academic institutions maintain an aura of educational excellence but actual learning occurs in diverse contexts.


Getting My Fix

It’s that time of year. Leaves aren’t even falling but classes have started at most academic institutions. Problem is, for me, didn’t get courses to teach this semester. Grrr!
And this is where teaching is “addictive.” No, not like drugs, gambling, WoW, or even pornography. But like Clodhoppers. It just feels right. Or it’s the hype… 😉

Ah, that rush you get from teaching!

Those who haven’t taught can’t really know how it feels. In fact, it’s quite possible that some people who do teach are not feeling it. But once you do feel it, you just want more. Despite all the obstacles. And we all know there’s a lot of obstacles in a teacher’s path! From abuse to social stigma, from grading to excuses… None of it matters. You may tell yourself that you just need one more class to teach, one is never enough.

To make matters worse, every class is different. You think that the next one will be so troublesome that you will run away from teaching but that’s exactly the time when you’re getting the ideal class and you forget all of your resolutions about avoiding the downward spiral of teaching.

Next thing you know, you want to bring a soapbox to the street and teach perfect strangers about the benefits of ethnography or the cultural significance of food. But it doesn’t even stop there. You take a look back at material you prepared for previous semesters and you want to expand them to serve as a basis for “open-source” textbooks. Or you look at your roster for a future semester in awe at the diversity of the student body: from accountancy through women’s studies, from exercise science through biochemistry, from film studies through human relations. And that’s when it becomes really tricky. You can just imagine how fun it’ll be to teach them about uxorilocality, tribes, and friendship. You can almost hear their objections to issues of globalization and ethnicity. You want to reach out to them and prepare reading material to get them started before you even meet. So you go online to your course management system and look at its newest features (if you’re lucky and are using an exceedingly good system like Moodle, Claroline, or Sakai instead of an evil system like Bl*ckb**rd or W*bCT).

What’s worse, you start blogging about the joys of teaching. At night. With no other purpose than getting your fix.

Ah, well…


Barthes on Wine

www_incipitblog_com-20050913-ROLAND_BARTHES-Mythologies_Le_vin_et_le_lait-Le_bifteck_et_les_frites.mp3 (audio/mpeg Object)

Says a lot about drinks and cultural identity.


Late August Quickies

Got many things to blog about. Been keeping some links in my “toBlog” folders. Without going all David Allen on this, it might be a good idea for me to put them out there, even if it means coming back to them.

Got other things from earlier this month. Thought about this format of some entries on the nightingaleshiraz blog.


“You Should Expand Your Reading Base”

Open Source » Blog Archive » Chomsky: My Dinner with Hassan
Thank you, Thomas Ricks!

Actually, his attitude through most of that conversation is quite refreshing. Humble yet assertive, honest yet tactful, insightful yet unafraid of obvious facts. Just shows that there’s life outside the New York Times groupthink, even within the United States media-obsessed world…


They Want It All

YouTube wants to get all the music videos ever made. Should be fun to watch.


Blogging Tools Redux

Was just looking for another blogging tool to help me blog from my XP machine (as opposed to my former iBook). Yes, again. Turns out Microsoft just started a beta test for their own blog client, “Windows Live Writer”

Writer Zone: Introducing Windows Live Writer

(It was listed on WordPress.org along other blogging tools.)

That tool is really meant for non-coders. Most, if not all, blog editors are meant to be somewhat WYSIWYG. Microsoft’s WLW follows that principle quite directly and emphasizes ease of editing, not advanced features. As such, it’s somewhat similar to Apple’s iWeb but, as CNET writers and readers keep pointing out, with a wider range of publishing options.

Of course, there’s a range of blogging tools out there. Several of them are free or quite inexpensive. Most of them do support several APIs. In fact, WordPress is supported by a good proportion of blogging tools. Didn’t realize it until today but the open-source LiveJournal editor Semagic does support WordPress if you change server settings (doh!). Other standalone blog editors (free of charge) like QumanaJBlogEditor, Blog Writer, and Post2Blog Express all seem rather decent. Browser-based solutions like Flock and Performancing work for some people but kind of defeat the purpose of a blogging. And Mozilla-based browsers don’t support “spell as you type” underlining, unlike Safari.

So far, ecto has been my favourite. It’s inexpensive, cross-platform, seems stable, easy to use. As a blog client, ecto not only lets you publish new blog posts but really helps maintaining multiple blogs. Fortunately, ecto does have multilingual “spell as you type” underlining. The main thing missing for me is on-the-fly WordPress categories. It seems that WordPress.com’s web-based editor is the only tool which allows for such a feature. But ecto is scriptable and accepts Technorati tags (which WordPress.com’s categories doubles). A del.icio.us-like tagging function would work well too. Another feature it could have is an integration with your browsers’ histories so you can easily enter links instead of copy/pasting them. Maybe in ecto 3!


Almost 10k

Started this WordPress.com blog on January 9, 2006 and will likely get to 10,000 views withing a few hours. Been getting anything from 60 to 130 views everyday day, for an average of maybe 80 views per day. The most popular entries seem to be:

Probably because of the way they’re referenced elsewhere.

None of this is really important, as my purpose is not to get as many eyeballs as possible. In terms of experimenting with blogs, it’s just interesting to see what’s happening here. Not that it’s representative.

If only more people could comment! 😉


Beer Comments by a Wine Expert: Redux

CBC’s Home Run did the second part of their “crash course” on beer, with their “wine expert.” For some obscure reason, they used a wit and a lambic as the main examples for ales. Comments made during the show had more to do with personal experiences of enjoying non-wine alcohol and getting drunk than with actual qualities of fermented beverages made with grain. We have a long way to go.

See my previous blog post (on the first part of that show’s “crash course,” talking about lagers). Here are my comments about this weeks discussion of ales:

This installment of Bélanger’s beer “crash course” is somewhat more appropriate than the previous one (although, lambics are usually not considered ales as S. cerevisiae isn’t necessarily the main fermentation agent). You might still consider getting help from one of several beer writers in Montreal. Some of them write in the local beer publications mentioned in my previous message, which has been reproduced here.

Not to be flip but, in Quebec, asking a wine expert to talk about beers is like asking a rugby expert to explain hockey. In Quebec, beer is more than a simple summer beverage and the craft beer industry across the globe is taking an interest in beer people in Quebec. It would make sense to dedicate a short segment of your show to quality beers in Quebec, especially if you get one of the numerous beer writers in Montreal.


RIAA: Still Clueless

Speaking of clues, Edgar Bronfman and his ilk still ain’t got none.
LimeWire in court: one thing leads to another

Nice Ars Technica intro:

Observe the indigenous RIAA in its native environment. Fresh off a kill, its thoughts to turn immediately to its next meal… thus the woolly tusked RIAA embodies the cycle of life.