Monthly Archives: September 2006

Worldly Scholars

Been quite taken by the last episode of Les années lumière, Radio-Canada’s scientific radio show. Made me think about scientists as human beings. Of course, there are several anthropologists working with scientists as groups, including Cultural Critique Michael M.J. Fischer and Maggie Paxson. My goal here is quite limited.

It’s fascinating to hear Ethiopian-born paleoanthropologist and MPI Professor Zeresenay (Zeray) Alemseged discuss his discovery of Selam, in French, for a Canadian national radio, directly from Ethiopia. People like him show the importance of the global network of scientists.

Hervé Fischer’s section on Internet penetration in Chile made clear the association between increased communication, computer literacy, knowledge management, and local empowerment. What MIT Media Lab director Nicolas Negroponte and numerous others have called the “leapfrog effect.” More than mere techno-enthusiasm, it’s a testament to knowledge’s power to cross all borders.

The feature interview of this episode was with Camille Limoges, a major figure in Quebec’s science politics. During that interview, Limoges stressed the importance of training creative people to process the growing wealth of knowledge representative of today’s world.

Altogether, a fascinating show, as is often the case.


English Syntax and Buffaloing

This Wikipedia entry was featured recently:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

It would be a very good example to use in an introductory class for almost any language science. The article itself is well-written.


Montreal Culture and Linkup

Noticed an event on Montreal Linkup set up by the Linkup founder. In it, he says:

I’d like to help Montreal Linkup eventually become just as active, so I am scheduling a series of events on the Montreal site to help get things started. I will not be able to attend this event myself, but I wanted to provide this opportunity for people on Montreal Linkup to gather for dinner and get acquainted in a relaxed, comfortable setting.

(Follows: a description of the restaurant, apparently coming from a guide.)

Given my ongoing commentary on the Montreal Linkup and Quebec culture, I really had to say something.

Here’s my message to him:

Firinn,

Though you may do the same for all of the less active Linkups, I get the impression that you’re trying to get the Montreal Linkup up and running.
As a cultural anthropologist from Montreal, I feel compelled to give you my perspective on what may or may not work. I blogged specifically about this issue.

Since then, I participated in two events in Montreal with people from New York Linkup.

Obviously, you know your business very well and this is not meant as a way to “teach you your job,” but in case these comments make a difference, I wanted to send them to you.

Clearly, every Linkup has its own life, feel, “personality.” From direct contacts with members from Boston and New York City, it seems that these differences are quite consequential. My argument is that Montreal might be even “more different.” Businesses from the U.S. that have established branches here were either already well-established outside of the U.S. or went on to become quite well-established elsewhere. Chances are that your success outside of North America (Paris, London, Hong Kong, Shanghai) will bring success to the Montreal Linkup, and vice-versa.
The key here is to adapt to the culture.

So let me pinpoint some differences between Montreal and other North American cities in the hope of helping you adapt Linkup to Montreal. Similarities between Montreal and the rest of North America are quite obvious but differences are making adaptation desirable.

The first thing to realize is that, as you probably know, Francophones make up for the majority of Montreal’s population (including a significant part of the business community which seems to be your primary target). This is not to say that you alienate two-thirds of the population by having an English-only site. After all, most of us French-speakers also read and write in English fairly frequently. (Contrary to Paris, English proficiency may not necessarily correlate with business-mindedness.) Yet the sociolinguistic constitution of the city might help explain why homegrown solutions are usually preferred. Quebec portals and blogs are really quite popular and even the traditional media are controlled locally (in a unique and much-bemoaned example of vertical integration).
Even English-speaking Montrealers perceive themselves as significantly distinct from the rest of North America. This is no mere city rivalry.It’s an actual identity.

While it has little to do with Hollywood or New York City, Montreal has its own star system. Montreal celebrities aren’t necessarily well-known outside of Quebec but they have a tremendous impact on the culture and appear in most of the media. Those celebrities are perceived as very personable and people meet them regularly, as they live in specific neighborhoods and tend to “hang out” at specific cafés, bars, and restaurants (hint: not Nizza). If a Montreal celebrity were to host an event, chances of getting the word out and the ball rolling would increase tremendously. Few celebrities are truly part of the two language communities but attendees may come from both communities if they really feel compelled.

To compare with Boston, locations listed for the Montreal Linkup (Saint-Jérôme, Joliette, Granby, Drumondville) are more like Springfield than like Cambridge. Similarly, your “Paris area” sounds as if the New York area included Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Bangor. A common way to divide up the Montreal region is (Island of) Montreal, South Shore, Laval, North Shore. Quebec itself is divided up in very distinct (and large) regions (the aforementioned cities are all in different regions).

Quebec culture in general tends to emphasize informality in many circumstances. One reason the Montreal Linkup appears to only be working with a specific group of entrepreneurs is that most other people are quite fond of impromptu, informal gatherings.
For an example of a homegrown network, you might want to look into the history of YulBiz, started by members of YulBlog (a blogger network).
The YulBlog rules may clash with Linkup’s “Good Hosting Guide.”

By the way, the website for Nizza is http://www.nizza.ca/.
Sorry to be blunt but the link you gave is for a restaurant in Minneapolis. It might just be that you were going through a list for all Linkup locations but it makes us think that your choice was arbitrary. There are many great restaurants in Montreal to host Linkup-type events, including way too many French restaurants. It doesn’t sound like Nizza would be a first choice for anyone to make.

Again, I hope some of this can help you understand what needs to be done to make Montreal Linkup a success.


Alexandre
https://enkerli.wordpress.com/

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Ray Got It!

Not only is his voice soothing but his is a very effective statement of strength. (Despite the very slight vulgarity.)
Like he says: stay strong!

(Thanks, Ze and the Sports Racers)


Peter Gabriel Remixed by Favard

Real World Remixed | Favard’s Remix Of Shock The Monkey

You can listen to the remix, rate it, and comment upon it.

Favard‘s a Swiss duo (Denis Corboz on trumpet, Vincent Jaton on keyboards) playing an interesting style of Electro-Jazz-Chill-Lounge.

Semi-disclaimer: Vincent is a good friend of mine. But he’s also a well-rounded musician and that shows up in his playing.


Disney Getting the Clue?

Disney Sells Films Through iTunes Store: Financial News – Yahoo! Finance

“Clearly customers are saying to us they want content in multiple ways,” Iger said.

That’s a start. Still too “content”-based, and used to talk about yet another DRM system, but it’s clearly more “cluefull” than what the RIAA has been saying.

That may be because Disney understands that

selling shows online has not cannibalized sales of DVDs, nor has it hurt traditional TV viewing.

And it does seem like Apple’s iTunes/iPod/FairPlay strategy is working.


The Big Zune Debacle

The device isn’t out yet but it’s generating a lot of negative reaction.

Partly based on this:

Zune Insider Blog: Answers to (some) of Your Zune Questions

“I made a song. I own it. How come, when I wirelessly send it to a girl I want to impress, the song has 3 days/3 plays?” Good question. There currently isn’t a way to sniff out what you are sending, so we wrap it all up in DRM. We can’t tell if you are sending a song from a known band or your own home recording so we default to the safety of encoding. And besides, she’ll come see you three days later.

Not to blame Cesar Menendez (Robert Scoble might have done the same thing), but the answer itself really shows that there is something missing in Microsoft’s understanding of music.

This post provoked a number of comments on the same blog and elsewhere:

Medialoper » Zune’s Big Innovation: Viral DRM

Boing Boing: Microsoft Zune will violate Creative Commons licenses

 Buzz Out Loud 314 Shownotes

As a more recent post answers several questions without even paying lip-service to the issue of Digital Rights Management, Microsoft gives the impression that it’s suddenly stonewalling:

Zune Insider Blog: Introducing, and Some More Q’s Answered
Having suffered from the over-restrictive DRM of Sony’s MiniDisc recorders, I think that DRM is one of the main reasons a device might succeed or fail in the consumer marketplace. The MiniDisc had the potential to be the ideal device for those who involve themselves in music (musicians, musickers, music lovers, music researchers…). But even music you recorded yourself was tagged as restricted and required a very expensive “professional” device to transfer digitally to another device, such a computer. Sony changed this only very recently and only for recordings made with current recorders.

In the Zune case, the wireless capabilities have been dreamed of years ago. As a musician, a researcher, and a lecturer, I would be delighted to be able to distribute my own content wirelessly. Just imagine: you record your own lecture, then you transfer it wirelessly to your students. Elegant, selective, seamless, intelligent, efficient. Lecturecasts at their finest. But if that content is to be crippled with an incredibly awkward DRM system, I would much rather use the much less efficient method of posting the audio file to a central server (possibly controlled), give instructions on how to retrieve the file, and wait until the next lecture to hear the complaints.

Of course, even if the Zune did not apply over-zealous DRM on my own content, I would still have to post the file. And one (who probably never taught) might think that the three days or three times restriction is perfectly reasonable for this use. But in terms of putting a product on the marketplace, one must get more insight than this.

It just shows that people at Microsoft sees their users as mere consumers of “content” and big media companies as “owners of content.” Yet the trend now is for “user-generated content,” “social networking,” “viral marketing,” and personal interactions through electronic devices.

Despite all of its flaws, the DRM on the iTunes Store (formerly iTunes Music Store) has imposed itself as a decent enough solution for a lot of people.


Do Play with Your Tongue!

Speaking of Synecdoche, N.Y., which sounds very unique indeed, there’s something to be said about having fun with language. Yeah, it’s intellectual humour. But who said intellectuals aren’t allowed to have fun?

Found a nice page explaining some tropes and schemes in a straightforward way. Reminded me of my favourite author, who uses language in such a playful manner. It might be my lack of knowledge of English-speaking literature but I find this kind of playful language much less common in English than in French. Yet, perhaps because of my obsession for language, I care more about language and fun than about plot, narrative, or story.


Comment Tracking

Oh!

Just found out about coComment, a comment-tracking system with a Firefox extension and a bookmarklet for other browsers. It seems to work on both WordPress (including WordPress.com) and Blogger (including Blogger beta) blogs.

Found it through the ecrivains.org blog.

As always, I get very excited at first when I first discover a new tool. This one isn’t necessarily earth-shattering, but it can work very well indeed.

In Firefox, it adds some functionalities to commenting boxes, including a del.icio.us-like tagging system. You can then keep track of posts on which you’ve left comments. Some blogging platforms allow you to receive email notifications when new comments have been posted. But this seems even more useful.
We’ll see.


Culinary Exploration

Just saw most of a documentary about Mark Brownstein, a former landscaper from the United States now living in Hong Kong. Brownstein started a business based on culinary exploration throughout East and Southeast Asia.

foodhunter by alongmekong productions

It would be rather easy to criticize both documentary and subject. The film itself pays lip-service to issues such as the possible exploitative nature of Brownstein’s business without delving very deeply into it. Is Brownstein the Ry Cooder of Southeast Asian cuisine?

Yet there are interesting issues which go beyond the movie, especially for those interested in food and culture.

As another blogger has it, the film itself is visually pleasing. And it does help us understand the amazing complexity of a few of Asia’s diverse foodways. And it does address issues related to food and globalization.

Will have to see this film again and explore Brownstein’s work a bit more carefully.


The Word

Speaking of language change and digital life, Radio Open Source is preparing a show about "Language Evolution in the Digital Age." Unfortunately, they seem to focus on lexicography and use an awkward notion of "evolution," but it’s quite representative of the language ideology of North American English-speakers.

Let’s hope they  grok the deeper implications of the fact that young people are in fact writing a lot. William Labov and Penny Eckert would be ideal people to talk about language change in this context.

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For Those Who Don’t Grok Blogging

A friend sent me this link:

How to Dissuade Yourself from Becoming a Blogger – WikiHow
Cute, but not that insightful. Continue reading


Beer Stats in Canada

This is interesting. Was just looking for the latest figures on sales of alcoholic beverages in Canada and it turns out they were published yesterday.
Unfortunately, this report doesn’t break down the figures by beer types  (regional, craft…). Another publication, including figures by domestic and import sales should come out shortly.
A couple of quotes:
As usual, beer was by far the most popular beverage. In terms of dollar value, beer captured 50.4% of sales. However, wine accounted for 25.2% of sales compared with 24.3% for spirits, the first time wine has jumped into second place.

From 1994/1995 to 2004/2005, sales of imported beer increased at an annual average rate of 18.6%, nearly six times the rate of growth of only 3.2% for sales of domestic brands.

Of all imported beer in Canada, 23.4% came from the United States, 20.5% from Mexico and 19.3% from the Netherlands.

(So, even import beer is mostly from large breweries…) 

A few quick observations.

  • Quebec is the only province with a loss in “net income of provincial and territorial liquor authorities and revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages” between 2k4 and 2k5. (Because of the SAQ strike.)
  • The only places where beer accounts for less than 50% of total sales of alcoholic beverages are Manitoba (46%), Alberta (47%), British Columbia (44%), and the Northwest Territories (49%).
  • Quebec is the province with the lowest percentage of spirits sales (11% of the total sales of alcoholic beverages).
  • These proportions are quite similar for 2k4.

Aren’t beer statistics cool?

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They Dropped The Other Shoe

[Disclaimer: I’m not necessarily an Apple fanboy but I have been an enthusiastic Mac user since 1987 and have owned several Apple products, from an iPod to a QuickTake camera. I also think that technology is having a big impact on arts, media, and entertainment.]

Just watched Apple’s "Showtime" Special Event. Didn’t really read or even listen to anything much about it yet. During that event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced new versions of all the iPod models, a new version of iTunes, and the addition of movies to the iTunes store. In addition, Jobs gave a sneak peak of an upcoming box to link iTunes with televisions and stereo systems.

People are likely to have been disappointed by the announcements. They’re probably saying that Steve Jobs’s famous "Reality Distortion Field" isn’t working, or that he lost his "mojo." They might even wonder about his health. Again…

Not that the new products are really boring, but there tend to be high expectations surrounding Apple announcements. This one is no different as people expected wireless capabilities on iPods and recording capabilities on the new "media centre" box, which was in fact part of the expected new products from Apple.

But this event is significant in another way. Through it, Apple explained their strategy, revealed a number of years ago as the Digital Hub. What some have called "convergence," quite a few years ago. Nothing really new. It’s just coming into full focus.

Though we may never know how much of it unfolded as planned, Apple’s media/tech strategy may appear rather prescient in retrospect. IIRC, it started in 1996, during Gil Amelio’s tenure. Or, more probably, in 1997 during the switch between Amelio and Jobs. Even by, say, 1999, that strategy was still considered a bold move. That was before the first iPod which, itself, was before iTunes, the iTunes Music Store, and most other current media-centric technologies at Apple. It was also at a time when user-generated content was relatively unimportant. In other ways, that was during the "Web 1.0" Internet bubble, before the "Web 2.0" craze for blogs, podcasts, and "social networking."

Apple isn’t the only corporation involved in the changes in the convergence between technology and the world of "content" (arts, media, entertainment). But it has played a key role. Whatever his success as a CEO, Steve Jobs has influenced the direction of change and, to an extent, shape a part of digital life to his own liking. While he’s clearly not clueless, his vision of the link between "content" and technology is quite specific. It does integrate user-generated content of "varying degrees of professionalism" (which he joked about during his presentation) but it gives precedence to the "content industry" (involving such powerful groups and lobbies as WIPO, NAB, MPAA, RIAA, etc.). Jobs’s position at Pixar makes him a part of that industry. Which is quite different from what arts and expressive culture can be.

Jobs invites musicians on stage with him (John Mayer, Wynton Marsalis, John Legend). He respects musicians and he might even appreciate their work. But his view of their work is that they produce content to consumed. For Jobs, music tracks, audiobooks, television episodes, movies, and music videos are all "contents" to be enjoyed by consumers. Now, the consumer can enjoy content "anywhere" as Apple is "in your den, in your living-room, in your car, and in your pocket." But what about public spaces? Concert halls, churches, coffee shops, parks, public libraries, classrooms, etc.? Oh! Apple can be there too! Yeah, of course. But those are not part of the primary vision. In Apple’s view, consumers all have their own iTunes accounts, media libraries, preferences, and content-consuming habits. A nuclear family may count as a unit to a certain extent (as Bob Iger pointed out in his "cameo appearance" during Jobs’s event). But the default mode is private consumption.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Even the coolest things online are often based on the same model. It’s just that it’s not the only way to do things. Music, for instance, can be performed in public. In fact, it can be a collaborative process. The performers themselves need not be professionals. There’s no need for an audience, even. And there’s no need to see it as "intellectual property." Music is not a product. It’s a process by which human beings organize sound.

Ah, well…

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African Ingenuity

Via BoingBoing.

Who says Africans lack business acumen?

(Actually, such methods of empowerment are quite common, throughout Africa. And many Africans are rightfully proud of being able to manage by themselves. When will people from OECD “nations” get this?)


To Live By

  • Don’t get mad. Get a clue.
  • Respect is not earned. It’s all due.
  • People aren’t what you think they are.
  • Protestant work ethic? Catholic play ethic. Buddhist life ethic.

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Coffee, Globalisation, “Race”

I’m usually a bit careful before jumping on the soapbox, but this is quite interesting. It’s from the blog for Black Gold, a documentary about the global coffee market.

The Trials of Daryl Hunt deals with national racism in the US justice system and [Black Gold] deals with the globalised racism maintained through a rigged international economy that undermines any sense of economic justice for the developing world, in particular Africa

Heard about Black Gold on the CoffeeGeek podcast. Haven’t seen the movie yet but comments about it in that podcast make it to be a powerful movie about the plight of coffee farmers, but with some flaws. The point remains (and is well-made by CoffeeGeek Senior Editor Mark Prince) that this story needs to be told, that people need to realise what is going on.

Usually, “Black Gold” refers to petroleum more directly than to coffee. Interestingly enough, coffee is (as coffee people are fond of saying) the second most-traded commodity after oil. And brewed coffee is usually black, or at least dark. So the title seems fitting, if a bit ambiguous. Going further with that stream of consciousness, we can think about skin colour and skin tone, which are used to identify “racial” groups by some people. It might have been on the minds of the documentary’s producers, as they do mention Africa and racism.

This in a context in which some people seem to think that Africa’s economic status relates more indirectly to internal politics, lack of business acumen, and kinship (i.e., Africans themselves) than to global trade or politics. We definitely need a broad discussion of the “Dark Continent” stereotype. And, yes, we do need to touch upon the issue of racism. It’s there and it has a deep impact on the world in which we all live.

Food for thought? Thought for food.


Friendship and Schools

The recent controversy over Facebook connects with an interesting issue. Here’s a comment from the Buzz Out Loud podcast.
Show Notes 307 – CNET Buzz Out Loud Lounge Forums

Bill sticks up for FacebookIf you look closer into the anti-News Feeds/Mini-Feed groups on
Facebook, 90 percent of the people that are protesting this “invasion of
privacy” are the people with hundreds of friends that they likely just
added to boost their “e-cred.” Most level-headed people that add only
their real-life friends myself included are finding the new additions
extremely useful. I love that I can go to Facebook on my cell phone and
find out everything that has happened since I last checked the site
without wandering aimlessly all over the place. Its a lot better than
wasting a 15-cent text message to be told that I was poked.

Maybe people need to learn the meaning of the word “friend” before they
complain about their friends being updated on what theyre doing.

Love the show, keep up the good work,

-Bill

Well, my observation is that, in the U.S., and especially in schools, colleges, and universities (Facebook’s target market), the term “friend” is applied to almost anyone with whom one is on friendly terms. People in a hierarchical relationship (say, professor and student) typically don’t call each other friend even when their relationship is sound. “Friend” isn’t necessarily the opposite of “ennemy” or “competitor” and friends do compete in many situations. There’s a whole lot more to say about this and anthropologists have been surprisingly silent about the importance of friendship in U.S. society.

Another thing to think about is that a special notion of friendship is at the basis of what O’Reilly calls “Web 2.0” and was already present in (now defunct) SixDegrees.com as well as today’s MySpace.com and other Facebook.com.


Firefox 2 Beta and Spell-Checking

Erm…

Is it just me or the “spell as you type” feature in Firefox 2 doesn’t work in the French localization?

The option is set (“vérifier l’orthographe lors de la frappe” in Options:Avancé) but mistakes aren’t underlined in text fields. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to change the text’s language.

As silly as it sounds, this is the one feature which could radically improve my browsing and blogging experience.

This is with Firefox 2.0b2 on Windows XP SP2.


Key to Geekdom

This is what industry executives often have a difficult time grokking.