Did anyone comb through the new documents about MySpace’s “privacy” and “terms and conditions?”
Looks like it might be an improvement but that might be a way to slip problematic rules by us.
As part of an anthropologist’s mission is the task, infrequently discussed, of determining what is “unique to humanity as a species.” Defining the human condition, we want to find that which is exclusively human. Not that we’re restrictive in our approaches. We are, in fact, very inclusive on the whole. We simply care about “what it means to be human.” Human beings are our main focus so we should be allowed to concentrate on them, using all those angles we like to use (through time and space, looking at diversity and universalism in culture, language, biology, etc.).
Yet, in this bio-obsessed neo-Darwinian world in which we live, someone’s focus on a single species is sometimes viewed as overly restrictive. In some milieus, “anthropocentrism” (like most other “-centrisms”) is perceived as a fault. In some contexts, especially in mainstream science media, “anthropomorphism” (like some other “-morphisms”) is conceived as a fallacy, a logical error.
As should be obvious, my perspective is somewhat different.
The broad reason I think about these things is a bit personal. I listen to a number of science podcasts and I encounter a number of news items about science. As an anthropologist, I’m particularly interested when science journalists or others are talking about humanity in a broad perspective. To be honest, I get slightly disappointed by the type of approach used in these contexts. In a way, those we hear on these issues tend to oversimplify the type of concept which warrants, IMHO, the most careful attention. Sure, there might be a disciplinary bias in my desire to get some concepts more carefully handled by “science media.” But there’s also a rational dimension to this desire. For instance, “culture” and “intelligence” are terms which are very significant when used with caution but become hindrances when oversimplified. A term like “species,” on the other hand, remains rather useful even in a simplified version. As a kind of hybrid case, “society” can be a fairly simple concept to grasp yet care is needed to understand what particular “social scientists” mean by it.
Clearly, there’s a type of “hard vs. soft” science issue, here. And though the disciplinary gap in science hardness is bridged by scholars themselves, science media outlets are often broadening this gap.
Became motivated to write this post after listening to the broadcast version of the latest episode of Radio-Canada’s science show. This specific episode included a panel on animal behavior, intelligence, and “culture.” This panel came at the end of a conference series on “animal societies” and related issues.
During the radio panel, one scholar dismissed the idea of using so restrictive a set of criteria to define intelligence that it would only apply to humans. The same scholar also dismissed criteria which would be so broad as to include a large number of species. In the end, this scholar’s goal is apparently to define intelligence in a quantitative way so as to encompass just enough species to be meaningful in the type of framework he has in mind.
“Fair enough,” I say. If people like him want to build a quantitative model of intelligence which includes some animal species and not others, there’s no harm in that. Science is model-building and model-testing, not “blind obedience to absolutes.” There wasn’t any discussion of why we would need such a model but, unfortunately, we can expect this kind of oversight in mainstream science media.
What I hope is also “fair enough” is that some anthropologists are attempting to build a meaningful (not exclusively quantitative) model of human intelligence which would, in effect, exclude non-human species. Not trying to say that human beings are “better” or more interesting. Just trying to show where humans and other species differ. Because many of us use do not restrict research to quantitative methods, it matters relatively little if the distance between humans and other species seems rather short. So much hinges on this distance that we can call it “significant.” It’s as much our right as the right to study phenomena which are in some ways similar to human intelligence. In fact, those who study non-human intelligence can help us in defining the outer limits of our field. Division of labor in academia is effective when people are open-minded.
During that same radio panel, another scholar dismissed the distinction between “culture” (“human culture”) and “proto-culture” (“culture among non-human species including proto-human hominids”). This scholar was using an (IMHO) awkward analogy having to do with the transition from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. (Something to the effect that we didn’t need a new name of automobiles so we don’t need a new name for human culture.) The fact that the analogy isn’t very effective is slightly amusing. More importantly, the dismissive statement displays a “pushy” attitude which I don’t find conducive to interdisciplinary work. Oh, sure, scholars in any discipline might display this attitude on occasion. In fact, I probably said similar things in classroom contexts, in order to make a point about something I was teaching. What I find problematic has more to do with overrepresentation from simplistic approaches to culture in mainstream science media. I don’t necessarily want “equal representation” (that’s not the way science works) but I would be pleased if mainstream science media could occasionally have culture scholars talking about culture.
Maybe it’s just a knee-jerk reaction on my part. That’s why it appears on my blog.
Saw a few things about Adobe’s AIR today, including a New York Times piece describing the “Webtop” play. In that NYT piece, a mention was made of Adobe’s own Buzzword “online word-processor.” Tried it out and, if it’s a sign of things to come, there might be some cool stuff happening for the webware enthusiast.
Buzzword has some niceties over other “online word processors” like Zoho Writer and Google Docs, especially in terms of interface. It does feel right, which makes for a more pleasant writing experience.
One thing I quite like about Buzzword is the list management. It seems more efficient that what is available in desktop word processors (most notably, in Microsoft Word). As a fan of outliners, I think this could even be a deal-maker for me.
I just wonder why it is that nobody’s integrating all of these cloud computing/webware/online productivity apps in an actual workflow. No, not AppleWorks-style “integrated software.” But some cool way to bring content from one online app to another.
This one is more of a rant. At least, it’s about a pet peeve. But I don’t think I’ll flesh it out unless I feel really motivated.
Basically, I wish people used more precise terms to designate different parts of the world and I can’t help but feel that there’s some ethnocentrism involved in the placenames used by many people including (or especially) journalists.
It’s really not about political correctness. It’s about accuracy, precision, clarity.
Terms I tend to like:
Term use I find just a bit tricky but still fit, for mostly historical reasons. I just wish they were more precise.
I also get slightly annoyed at the reliance on country names, especially in mainstream media, but I do understand why they seem so important to journalists and news-guzzlers.
Terms which rapidly get problematic:
Of course, “Middle East” is the one I find most problematic. Not only has its meaning shifted over the years but it’s one of those terms which hides more than it reveals. Oh, sure, I enjoy ambiguity. But I like ambiguity when it’s purposeful, obvious. Honest. The type of ambiguity afforded “Middle East” is more than Orientalism. It’s halfhearted neo-colonialism.
Speaking of housecleaning… The draft for this one was part of another post.
Mark the date: November 14, 2007.
Nearly epic. Don’t know that there’s a hero.
Too absurd not to be funny.
So despite what it may look like, this is not a rant. I went on smiling most of the time.
A simple cable, weighing 37g (72g in box). Paid 26,33$ CAD ($27.35 USD), thanks to a 10$ rebate. And it was probably the most complicated purchase in my life.
The Apple Store (U.S.) – Apple iPod Dock Connector to FireWire Cable
[That’s the extent of that draft. Going from memory, now…]
The first thing to happen was that the iPod I was using (had bought it refurb’ed for my wife, a year and half before) had to be restored. Problem was that, to be restored, an iPod needs to be plugged to a wall outlet. The desktop I was using didn’t allow for the “USB cable half-way through” trick to work. I had an iPod power adapter but it was for FireWire (because it came with my older iPod). So I decided to get a FireWire Dock connector.
Saw the item selling for $5 at Apple’s online store but I don’t like to mail-order things, especially not something as inexpensive as that.
Went to Micro Boutique (walking distance from my place, at the time). It was a Sunday in late September or early October, IIRC. I was told that this item was in the warehouse and that I could come and pick it up the following morning. No need to put a hold on it, they had the part. It would cost $10, but that was still ok.
Was teaching that following morning, ended up going a few days later. They didn’t have the part but could order it and it would get there soon. They’d call me once it’s in.
They did call me, after a couple of weeks. The part was in. I went to the store to be told that they hadn’t received the part, that I could order it again. It was becoming a bit absurd, but I did order the part. They then called me again, a week or so later to tell me the part was there. I went back to the store and they couldn’t locate the actual part! I was told that they would call me again. Which they did do, a couple of days later, and this time, they had the actual part. After weeks and five visits.
Again, this wasn’t meant as a rant. I laughed most of the time. 🙂
I’m doing a bit of housecleaning. This is an old post I had in my drafts. Moved to Austin in the meantime, blogged about other things…
I keep dreaming of different devices which would enhance my personal and professional experience. Not that I’m really a gadget geek. But technology has, to a large extent, been part of improvements in my life.
Though I would hesitate to call “addictive” my relation to computer technology, I certainly tend to depend on it quite a bit.
Ok, ok! A lot of context.
Let’s go back. Waaaaay back. To the summer of 1993. I was 21, then, and had already been a Mac-head for more than six years. Without being a complete fanboy of Apple Computers, I guess I was easily impressed by many of its products. During a trip to Cape Cod that summer, I got to read an issue of USA Today. In that issue, I read a review of a new class of computers, the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). I still remember how I felt. It might not have been my first “tech-induced epiphany” but it was one of the most intense. I not only started drifting off (which was easy enough to do, as I was in the back seat of my mother’s car), I actually started perceiving what my life could be with one of those devices.
Of course, I could afford any of them. Even when it became possible for me to purchase such a device, it remained financially irrational for me to spend that money on a single device, no matter how life-changing it might have been.
Shortly after discovering the existence of PDAs, and still during the summer of 1993, I discovered the existence of the Internet. Actually, it’s all a bit blurry at this point and it’s possible that I may have heard of the Internet before reading that epiphany-inducing USA Today article. Point is, though, that the Internet, not the PDA, changed my life at that point.
Whatever my computing experience had been until that point is hard to remember because the ‘Net changed everything. I know about specific computers I had been using until that point (from a ViC20 to an SE/30). I do remember long evenings spent typing from my handwritten notes taken during lectures. I still get a weird feeling thinking about a few sleepless nights spent playing simple strategy and card games on my father’s old Mac Plus. But I just can’t remember I could live without the ‘Net. I wasn’t thinking the same way.
Not too long after getting my first email account (on Université de Montréal’s Mistral server, running IRIX), the ‘Net helped me land my first real job: research assistant at a speech synthesis lab in Lausanne, Switzerland.
In late 1993 or early 1994, I had sent an email to a prominent ethnomusicologist about applying to the graduate program where she was and mentioned something about computer-based acoustic analysis, having taken a few courses in acoustics. She told me about Signalyze, a demo version of which was available through a Gopher server for that Swiss lab. While looking at that Gopher server, I became interested in the lab’s research projects and contacted Eric Keller, head of that lab and the main developer for Signalyze. I was already planning on spending that summer in Switzerland, working at my father’s cousin’s crêperie, so I thought spending some time in Lausanne interacting with members of Keller’s lab was a good idea. I was just finishing my bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Université de Montréal (with a focus on linguistic anthropology and ethnomusicology). So I was interested in doing something related to sound analysis in musical or speech contexts. Keller asked for my résumé and offered me paid work at his lab for the summer. I ended up spending both that summer and the whole 1994-1995 academic year working at this lab, being paid more than some of my mentors in Montreal.
Technologically-speaking, my life in Switzerland was rather intense. I was spending 15 hours a day in front of a computer, doing acoustic analysis of speech sounds. This computer was a Mac IIvx which had once belonged to UQÀM. A very funny coincidence is that the Mac IIvx I was using had become the source of part of the funding for a fellowship at UQÀM. After I met the incredible woman who became my wife, she received that fellowship.
As this computer had a fast connection to the Internet, I became used to constantly having online access. I was mostly using it to send and receive emails, including messages to and from mailing-lists, but I also got to dabble in HTML a bit and did spend some time on the still burgeoning World Wide Web. I also used a few instant messaging systems but I was still focused on email. In fact, I started using email messages to schedule quick coffee breaks with a friend of mine who was working one floor below me.
This 15-months stay in Switzerland is also when I first got a chance to use a laptop. A friend of my father had lent me his laptop so I could work on a translation contract during weekends. Though this laptop (a PowerBook 170, IIRC) wasn’t very powerful, it did give me a vague idea of what mobile computing might be like.
Coming back to Quebec about my Swiss experience, I began my master’s degree in linguistic anthropology. After looking at different options, I bought a PowerMac 7200 through a friend of mine. That 7200 (and the PowerMac 7300 which followed it) greatly enhanced my stationary computing experience. I probably wasn’t thinking about mobile and handheld devices that much, at that time, but I was still interested in mobile computing.
Things started to change in 1997. At that time, I received a Newton MessagePad 130 through the AECP (Apple Educational Consultant Program). This was a great device. Too big for most pockets. But very nice in almost every other respect. While my handwriting is hard to read by most humans, the Newton’s handwriting did quite a decent job at recognising it. I also became quite adept in Graffiti, Palm Inc.’s handwriting recognition software based on a constructed script from uppercase latin alphabet. I was able to take notes during lectures and conferences. For a while, I carried my Newton anywhere. But it was so bulky that I eventually gave up. I just stopped carrying my Newton around. At one point, I even lent it to a friend who tried it out for a while. But I wasn’t a PDA user anymore. I still needed the perfect PDA. But the Newton wasn’t it.
In early 1998, I went to Mali for the first time. Before I went, I bought a portable cassette recorder to record interviews and some musical performances.
When I moved to Bloomington, IN in September 1998 to do my Ph.D. coursework, I literally had no computer at home. As I had done for a long time during my bachelor’s degree, I spent long hours in computer labs on campus. The computers themselves were quite good (and updated fairly regularly) and IU had one of the best Internet connections available.
In mid-to-late 2001, when rumours of an Apple-branded portable device started surfacing, I was getting ready for my main ethnographic and ethnomusicological fieldwork trip to Mali.
I kept thinking about different tools to use in the field. For some reason, portable equipment for computing and recording was strangely important for me. I still had my Newton MP130. And I was planning on using it in the field. Except if something radically better came along. So I was hoping for the mysterious handheld device Apple was launching to be something of a Newton replacement. Sure, I knew that Steve Jobs had always hated the Newton, apparently for personal reasons. But I secretly hoped that he would come to his senses and allow Apple to revolutionise the handheld market it had spearheaded back in 1993. When I learnt that the device might be related to audio, I thought that it might be both a PDA and an audio device. More importantly for me, I thought that it would have some recording capabilities, making it the ideal field research tool for ethnographers and ethnomusicologists. I was waiting impatiently for the announcement and, like some others, was disappointed by the initial release, especially when I learnt that the iPod didn’t have any recording capabilities. Soon after this, I bought the main devices which would accompany me in my main field trip to Mali: an Apple iBook (Dual USB) laptop with Combo Drive, a HandSpring Visor Deluxe PDA, a Sony MZ-R37 MiniDisc recorder, and a Sony ECM-MS907 microphone. I used all of these extensively throughout my field trip and, though Internet access was spotty, being able to regularly send and receive messages from my iBook was very beneficial for my research practises. I left the MiniDisc recorder and microphone with Yoro Sidibe, the main person with whom I was working in the field, and had to buy other equipment on my way back.
By mid-2004, I bought a used iPod through eBay. I was still living in Montreal but was moving to South Bend, IN, where I was going to spend a year on a teaching fellowship. To make things easier and cheaper, I had the eBay seller send the iPod to my future office in South Bend. When I arrived in South Bend a month or so later, I finally took possession of my first ever iPod. It was an iPod 2G 20GB with FireWire. It came in a rather big box which also included: the original AC adapter, two extra adapters (including a car one), two pouches, the original headphones, and the original remote control.
My iBook (Dual USB) only had a 10GB hard drive so most of my MP3s were on CD-Rs that I had burnt for use with a CD-MP3 player (at the time, a Rio Volt that I had received as a gift a few years prior). I had also brought in my CD collection, in CD Projects (and similar) carrying cases. Hundreds of CDs, a rather heavy and voluminous burden.
I eventually got a good part of my CD collection on the iPod. And I rediscovered music.
Funny to say, for an ethnomusicologist. But pretty realistic. I had lost touch with this type of private music listening. As convenient as it was to use, my Rio Volt didn’t really enable me to connect with music. It merely allowed me to carry some music with me.
Fairly early on, during my first iPod’s career as my main music device, the remote control started acting funny. Sometimes, it would reboot the iPod for no reason. Using the headphones directly (without the remote control), I didn’t have that problem. Though I know very little about electronics, it seemed to me that something was wrong in the connection between the remote control and the jack. I asked the prior owner who said he never had had a problem with the remote control. I resorted to not using the remote control and went on my happy way to iPod happiness for almost two years. Apple was releasing new iPod models and I would have liked to own them, but my finances wouldn’t allow me to purchase one of them and my iPod 2G was still giving me a lot of pleasure.
When Apple introduced podcast support in mid-2005, I became something of a podcast addict. I subscribed to tons of podcasts and was enjoying the iTunes/iPod integration to its fullest potential. A portion of my music MP3 collection was still taking the largest amount of disk space on my iPod but I was spending more time listening to podcasts than listening to MP3s from my personal collection.
In early 2006, I finally transformed my whole CD collection to MP3s thanks to the large hard drive (160GB) in the refurbished emachines H3070 that I had to buy to replace my then-defunct iBook. The complete collection took over 90GB and it took me quite a while to sort it all out. In fact, large chunks of this MP3 collection remain unexplored to this day. My main “active” collection represents about 15GB, which did fit on my iPod’s 20GB hard drive with enough room for lots of podcasts. So, despite being quite outdated by that time, my iPod 2G was giving a lot of pleasure.
Then, in mid-2006, I started having problems with the headphone jack on this iPod. Come to think of it, I probably had problems with that headphone jack before that time, but it was never enough of a problem to detract me from enjoying my iPod. By mid-2006, however, I was frequently losing sound in one headphone because the jack was moving around. My music- and podcast-listening life wasn’t as happy as it had been. And I started looking elsewhere for audio devices.
Which is how I came to buy an iRiver H120, in July, 2006.
Should follow this post up, at some point
Austin, my current hometown, was host last night to the kind of event which gets national coverage. This time, 43,436 people tried to attend the event but only a hundred of them got selected. There were also 400 tickets for around 18,000 UT students who had entered the lottery.
The “post-game analysis” makes it sound like a match between two sports teams.
Interestingly enough, it’s a mixed sport, making it easy for journalists to use pronouns to distinguish players in the two teams. One source described the night’s event as possible end game for the team led by a woman:
After losing a string of contests to [him] over the last several weeks, she is running neck-and-neck with him in Texas, according to some polls, a state in which she previously had a commanding lead.
One might think it was a fashion show:
the gold piping on her raised black collar and pockets gave her a martial, commander-in-chief look (the very model of a modern major general)
But I also get the impression that it was a theater premiere, with one source describing one actor’s “classic ‘I-feel-your-pain’ finale” meant to go to watchers’ “heads and hearts.”
In the end, the event was mostly “media event.” By the media, for the media, of the media.
Most likely, it won’t change the dynamic of this race, though the true effect of it will be determined by the media coverage around it: Should it get replayed over and over on television, it just may have an impact on this race and could stand out as the debate’s most striking moment.
So, I’m a bit puzzled by the whole thing.
It’s one of those Jeff Foxworthy-type humorous lists of traits which might be shared by some group of people. In this case, the list is adapted from a Facebook group about Third Culture children. As it happens to be a group which I joined a while ago, those connections also work for the Small World Effect.
Anyhoo, I kind of like the list itself. Not because it’s unbelievably funny. But because I can relate to many of these things.
For instance, the following traits are quite relevant in my case:
The following items are probably less relevant but they do fit, to a certain extent.
So… I can somehow relate to about half of the 83 traits listed in the “International School” I’m taking these from. Yet my life hasn’t been that of an International School student. Or, really, that of a typical “Third Culture kid.” But as a “stateless person” («apatride») since childhood, as someone who did get to travel intercontinentally early on, as an anthropologist, and as an academic, I can relate to many of these traits.
I guess there’s a few I might add (though not phrased as elegantly):
If other people can relate to the same set of things, maybe I’m not as weird as I’ve been told I am.
One thing I feel weird about is that some of these traits sound self-aggrandizing. I kind of “left my humility at the door when I came in” but I still feel that associating myself with some of these things may make me sound like a self-serving snob.
It surely is a small world. Especially between similar regions of the same continent.
My friend Jenny Cool tells me about her friend Jordan Weeks, a fellow blogging Austinite. And a fellow expat. Interestingly enough, he’s also a fellow beer aficionado and knows fellow Austin brewclub member Charles.
So I feel the need to reach out to the fella.
Problem is, his blog doesn’t seem to allow for comments and I have no direct way to reach him. Oh, sure, I could ask Jenny or Charles for his email. But writing a blog entry just to ping someone is much more fun. 🙂
Semagic does work on WordPress.com
Been talking about Semagic and recent versions of WordPress.com. Hadn’t used Semagic in quite a while and been recently more active on the Mac side of things. But it does seem to work. Typically, most blogging tools do work with WordPress.com blogs but I’ve had issues with those (like Flock) which fetch categories all the time because I use way too many categories on my main blog (I was using them like tags).
Can’t really remember what was missing from Semagic for me. But it does seem fine. And it’s an old version (184.108.40.206U). It might have had to do with the fact that it doesn’t seem to do “spell as you type” (which I pretty much require). But I see now that it does support “autocorrect” as long as the dictionaries are activated. So, maybe it was something else.
After first trying with 220.127.116.11U, I’m now posting using 18.104.22.168U. While the changelog seems to contain a number of things between the two versions, I’m not sure I notice anything very striking, yet.
What I do like about those standalone editors is that they allow for relatively easy management of archived entries. Windows Live Writer is actually pretty good at this. I think blogging tools could become even better at handling blog entries like database entries (given the fact that it’s exactly what they are).
One thing I notice with Semagic (not sure other standalone editors do the same thing) is that what’s put in the “category” field is added as both categories (“filed under”) and tags (“tagged as”). The way WordPress.com handles categories and tags is a bit different from the way other blogging platform work (a bit like Gmail “labels” aren’t exactly like folders), so that’s not very surprising.
One thing which does seem awkward is the way Semagic handles the editing of older entries. When I tried updating this entry, the previous version disappeared from my blog and the new version wasn’t posted. Maybe it was a user error, on my part. I went to the “Journal/History” menu item, chose this entry, pressed the “Edit” button, clicked on the “>” to get “edit in main window,” saved the draft I had, updated the post, pressed the “Post entry” button, chose “Resplace existing entry (edit)” or something similar and I ended up with the entry deleted from the actual blog. What’s more, the draft handling is a bit confusing as it seems to automatically reuse the last draft instead of listing recent drafts.
At any rate, Semagic does work with WordPress.com blogs.
My Server settings are the same as those shown in the middle portion of this Semagic help page (using the MetaWeblog API). More specifically, the server is my full blog URL (“enkerli.wordpress.com”) and the path is “/xmlrpc.php” (as confirmed by WordPress.com doc).
Hope this helps someone.
In a blogpost, Learning Systems ’08 host Elliott Masie lists 12 features learning management systems could/should have.
Elliott Masie’s Learning TRENDS – Learning TRENDS – 12 Wishes for Our LMS and LCMS
While Masie’s focus is on training and learning in corporate situations, many of these ideas are discussed in other types of learning contexts, including higher education. Some of the most cynical of university professors might say that the reason this list could apply to both corporate and university environments is that university are currently being managed like businesses. Yet, there are ways to adapt to some of the current “customer-based” approaches to learning while remain critical of their effects.
Personally, I think that the sixth point (about “social knowledge”) is particularly current. Not only are “social” dimensions of technology past the buzzword phase but discussing ways to make learning technology more compatible with social life is an efficient way to bring together many issues relating to technology and learning in general.
Masie’s description of his “social knowledge” wish does connect some of these issues:
Learning Systems will need to include and be integrated with Social Networking Systems. Some of the best and most important knowledge will be shared person-to-person in an organization. The learner wants to know, “Who in this organization has any experience that could help me as a learner/worker?” In addition to the LMS pointing to a module or course, we need to be able to link to a colleague who may have the perfect, relevant experience based on their work from 2 jobs ago. The social dimension of learning needs to be harvested and accelerated by a new vision of our Learning Systems.
Throughout the past year, I’ve been especially intrigued about the possibilities opened by making a “learning system” like Moodle more of a social networking platform. I’ve discussed this at the end of a longish wishlist for Moodle’s support of collaborative learning:
- Another crazy idea: groups working a bit like social networking sites (e.g. Facebook). You get “friends” with whom you can share “stuff” (images, comments, chats, etc.). Those groups can go beyond the limits of a single course so that you would use it as a way to communicate with people at school. The group could even have a public persona beyond the school and publish some information about itself and its projects. Moodle could then serve as a website-creator for students. To make it wackier, students could even maintain some of these contacts after they leave the school.
- Or Moodle could somehow have links to Facebook profiles.
My curiosity was later piqued by fellow anthropologist Michael Wesch’s comments about the use of Facebook in university learning and teaching. And the relevance of social networking systems for learning strategies has been acknowledged in diverse contexts through the rest of 2007.
One thing I like about Masie’s description is the explicit connection made between social networking and continuity. It’s easy to think of social networks as dynamic, fluid, and “in the now.” Yet, one of their useful dimensions is that they allow for a special type of direct transmission which is different from the typical “content”-based system popular in literacy-focused contexts. Not only do large social networking systems allow for old friends to find another but social networks (including the Internet itself) typically emphasize two-way communication as a basis for knowledge transmission. In other words, instead of simply reading a text about a specific item one wants to learn, one can discuss this item with someone who has more experience with that item. You don’t read an instruction manual, you “call up” the person who knows how to do it. Nothing new about this emphasis on two-way transmission (similar to “collaborative learning”). “Social” technology merely helps people realize the significance of this emphasis.
I’m somewhat ambivalent as to the importance of ratings (Masie’s third point). I like the Digg/Slashdot model as much as the next wannabe geek but I typically find ratings systems to be less conducive to critical thinking and “polyphony” (as multiplicity of viewpoints) than more “organic” ways to deal with content. Of course, I could see how it would make sense to have ratings systems in a corporate environment and ratings could obviously be used as peer-assessment for collaborative learning. I just feel that too much emphasis on ratings may detract us from the actual learning process, especially in environments which already make evaluation their central focus (including many university programs).
Overall, Masie’s wishlist makes for a fine conversation piece.
Few things impress me more from management than responsiveness and a sense of responsibility. Contrary to what some people seem to assume when I say a thing like this, the reciprocal isn’t true. There are several things managers can do which disappoint me more than their lack of responsiveness or their failure to take responsibility for something going on in their business. The main point is that I don’t really expect most managers to be responsive or responsible in matters pertaining to their business. Without my noticing it, there might be an implicit indictment of common managerial styles in the way I perceive responsive and responsible managers. But I mostly mean this as praise for what I perceive as proper management.
Now, those who know me would probably shout out that I’m really nothing like the “managerial type.” At best, I’d be the kind of person managers may pay attention to, on occasion. But I like ambivalence and nuance too much to be a “decider.” Since I have never been (nor do I ever plan to be) in a position of power over others, “it’s all good.”
What does any of this have to do with the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, you ask so eagerly I can smell the anxiety in your voice? Simple: Management at FS has just provided me with an excellent example of what I consider to be responsible and responsive management. And this does almost as much to endear them to me than their beer selection. SRSLY!
Here’s the deal…
Went to the recently-opened Austin location of the FS beerpub chain. Based in Houston, the chain has pubs in different parts of Southcentral and Southeastern United States (AR, TN, TX, NC, and SC). Because their beer selection tends to be rather extensive, their pubs are mentioned occasionally in beer podcasts and informal discussions. I was thus enthusiastic about the opportunity to go and sample some of their beers. Anything which brings people to understand beer diversity has my attention.
To make things even more exciting, the pub has a Monday night special (every week, apparently) during which draft beers are sold at $2.50 a pint. There are less expensive beers around (including some carefully crafted beer brewed locally) but given Flying Saucer’s beer selection, the deal sounded too good to be true.
And it kind of was. Not every beer on the draft menu was part of the special. Fair enough, of course. But a bit confusing. In fact, something on their Austin website was slightly misleading. Nothing to sue them over but, still, it’s a bit frustrating to have reality not live up to expectations set up by information given out by an enterprise. (A rare occurrence, right? 😉 )
So I submitted some comments using their feedback form. Because my comments were (hopefully constructive but still) somewhat negative, I sent those comments in the “Criticize Us” category. I tried to make my comments as thoughtful as possible but I did feel a bit silly to criticize a pub for what is objectively a very nice special. It’s probably just something about myself that I like to tell people what I feel about what they do to me. It might even be a Quebecker thing.
Thing is, I didn’t really expect an answer. I was sending comments in the hope that, maybe, it would reach someone who might be reminded of it on an occasion where it might matter, somewhat. I almost sent a copy of my comments as an “open letter” but, probably because I felt a bit silly for sending such comments, I refrained from compulsively blogging the issue.
I sent my comment at 10PM CET. An automatic response told me, in a humorous way, that I should receive a response within 12 to 24 hours and, failing this, I should send another message. I don’t even expect that kind of a response time in time-sensitive situations (say, a moving or a courier company) so I really didn’t expect a response in that timeframe. But this auto-response did prepare me to get some kind of reply (probably a generic response) at some point in the not-too-distant future. Again, this wasn’t something I was really expecting when I submitted my comments.
What I still wasn’t expecting after receiving the automatic response was what actually happened. By 4:30AM CET, a message was sent to me by someone at the Austin management for Flying Saucer. That message was CC’ed to other people but was clearly addressed to me. No form letter here. In fact, the message was directly addressing the issues I had raised, in exactly the right tone and most appropriate way. The person who sent the message took responsibility for the misleading statement and pledged to rectify it right away. In fact, by the time I read that message, the actual webpage had in fact been updated, and the statement I had quoted had been replaced with a claim that I find humorous, honest, and quite appropriate.
Of course, it didn’t take them too much of an effort to make these changes. And they might have acted so quickly for fear of legal issues (even though my message wasn’t at all meant to be threatening). But I’m still very impressed by the responsiveness and sense of responsibility displayed by management at Flying Saucer Austin.
To remain in the corporate mindframe, it reminds me of ads for a fast-food chain in which people act in a “refreshingly honest” way. Though I’m certainly not going to eat fast-food because of ads like these, I definitely appreciate the concept. Openness, transparency, effectiveness, responsiveness, responsibility… Taken together, these qualities make for a very pleasurable experience, even when they relate to relatively large institutions. I sincerely think that if more managers were like that, many problems could be solved.
Now, if I can only get Texas to change its beer import laws… 😉
To summarize the situation:
No, I’m not talking about piracy. Piracy is wrong on a very practical level (not to mention legal and moral issues). Piracy and anti-piracy protection are in a dynamic that I don’t particularly enjoy. In some ways, forms of piracy are “ruining it for everyone.” So this isn’t about pirated software.
I’m not talking about “Free/Libre/Open Source Software” (FLOSS) either. I tend to relate to some of the views held by advocates of “Free as in Speech” or “Open” developments but I’ve had issues with FLOSS projects, in the past. I will gladly support FLOSS in my own ways but, to be honest, I ended up losing interest in some of the most promising projects out there. Not saying they’re not worth it. After all, I do rely on many of those projects But in talking about “no-cost software,” I’m not talking about Free, Libre, or Open Source development. At least, not directly.
Basically, I was thinking about the complex equation which, for any computer user, determines the cash value of a software application. Most of the time, this equation is somehow skewed. And I end up frustrated when I pay for software and almost giddy when I find good no-cost software.
An old but representative example of my cost-software frustration: QuickTime Pro. I paid for it a number of years ago, in preparation for a fieldwork trip. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do, especially given the fact that I was going to manipulate media files. When QuickTime was updated, my license stopped working. I was basically never able to use the QuickTime Pro features. And while it’s not a huge amount of money, the frustration of having paid for something I really didn’t need left me surprisingly bitter. It was a bad decision at that time so I’m now less likely to buy software unless I really need it and I really know how I will use it.
There’s an interesting exception to my frustration with cost-software: OmniOutliner (OO). I paid for it and have used it extensively for years. When I was “forced” to switch to Windows XP, OO was possibly the piece of software I missed the most from Mac OS X. And as soon as I was able to come back to the Mac, it’s one of the first applications I installed. But, and this is probably an important indicator, I don’t really use it anymore. Not because it lacks features I found elsewhere. But because I’ve had to adapt my workflow to OO-less conditions. I still wish there were an excellent cross-platform outliner for my needs. And, no, Microsoft OneNote isn’t it.
Now, I may not be a typical user. If the term weren’t so self-aggrandizing, I’d probably call myself a “Power User.” And, as I keep saying, I am not a coder. Therefore, I’m neither the prototypical “end user” nor the stereotypical “code monkey.” I’m just someone spending inordinate amounts of time in front of computers.
One dimension of my computer behavior which probably does put me in a special niche is that I tend to like trying out new things. Even more specifically, I tend to get overly enthusiastic about computer technology to then become disillusioned by said technology. Call me a “dreamer,” if you will. Call me “naïve.” Actually, “you can call me anything you want.” Just don’t call me to sell me things. 😉
Speaking of pressure sales. In a way, if I had truckloads of money, I might be a good target for software sales. But I’d be the most demanding user ever. I’d require things to work exactly like I expect them to work. I’d be exactly what I never am in real life: a dictator.
So I’m better off as a user of no-cost software.
I still end up making feature requests, on occasion. Especially with Open Source and other open development projects. Some developers might think I’m just complaining as I’m not contributing to the code base or offering solutions to a specific usage problem. Eh.
Going back to no-cost software. The advantage isn’t really that we, users, spend less money on the software distribution itself. It’s that we don’t really need to select the perfect software solution. We can just make do with what we have. Which is a huge “value-add proposition” in terms of computer technology, as counter-intuitive as this may sound to some people.
To break down a few no-cost options.
With all but the last category, I end up with most (but not all) of the software solutions I need. In fact, there are ways in which I’m better served now with no-cost software than I have ever been with paid software. I should probably make a list of these, at some point, but I don’t feel like it.
I mostly felt like assessing my needs, as a computer user. And though there always are many things I wish I could do but currently can’t, I must admit that I don’t really see the need to pay for much software.
Still… What I feel I need, here, is the “ultimate device.” It could be handheld. But I’m mostly thinking about a way to get ideas into a computer-friendly format. A broad set of issues about a very basic thing.
The spark for this blog entry was a reflection about dictation software. Not only have I been interested in speech technology for quite a while but I still bet that speech (recognition/dictation and “text-to-speech”) can become the killer app. I just think that speech hasn’t “come true.” It’s there, some people use it, the societal acceptance for it is likely (given cellphone penetration most anywhere). But its moment hasn’t yet come.
No-cost “text-to-speech” (TTS) software solutions do exist but are rather impractical. In the mid-1990s, I spent fifteen months doing speech analysis for a TTS research project in Switzerland. One of the best periods in my life. Yet, my enthusiasm for current TTS systems has been dampened. I wish I could be passionate about TTS and other speech technology again. Maybe the reason I’m notis that we don’t have a “voice desktop,” yet. But, for this voice desktop (voicetop?) to happen, we need high quality, continuous speech recognition. IOW, we need a “personal dictation device.” So, my latest 2008 prediction: we will get a voice device (smartphone?) which adapts to our voices and does very efficient and very accurate transcription of our speech. (A correlated prediction: people will complain about speech technology for a while before getting used to the continuous stream of public soliloquy.)
Dictation software is typically quite costly and complicated. Most users don’t see a need for dictation software so they don’t see a need for speech technology in computing. Though I keep thinking that speech could improve my computing life, I’ve never purchased a speech processing package. Like OCR (which is also dominated by Nuance, these days) it seems to be the kind of thing which could be useful to everyone but ends up being limited to “vertical markets.” (As it so happens, I did end up being an OCR program at some point and kept hoping my life would improve as the result of being able to transform hardcopies into searchable files. But I almost never used OCR (so my frustration with cost-software continues).)
As confirmed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences has just adopted a groundbreaking mandate “that requires faculty members to allow the university to make their scholarly articles available free online.”
Some coverage elsewhere:
Peter Suber’s blog is a comprehensive source for Open Access news. Some of his posts covering the Harvard mandate:
Why are those news so important? Well, it’s the first such university mandate in the United States, so it does set a precedent in and of itself. (The UC system might be the second one.) But, of course, Harvard’s prestige is an important factor. Hence the “H-bomb” title: just mentioning “Harvard” has a very strong effect, so much so that some Harvard graduates refrain from mentioning their alma mater. As Suber assesses, Harvard’s support for Open Access makes it unlikely that publishers would refuse articles from Harvard faculty. Personally, I would even go so far as to say that the FUD spewed by “academic” publishers might become much less effective than it has previously been.
In other words, this is a big victory for scholarship. Too bad publishers see it as a defeat. Maybe like “content” lobby groups RIAA and MPAA, publishers will finally be hit by the “cluestick” and will begin to understand that it is, in fact, in their best interest to embrace openness.
Yes, call me naïve.
Too bad it’s Charbucks but it’s still a bit of good news, especially for us AT&T Broadband subscribers. In fact, I even thought about going to spend a few minutes at *$ because of this news item. But since there are plenty of much superior cafés around town and that they all provide free WiFi, I just ended up bringing the MacBook to a few nice cafés, feeling all good inside (and outside: cafés have patios, here).
So, the deal is more an inspiration than anything else. Same thing about the *$/Apple deal for music distribution. The concept sounds good but the specific partnership would have been better if it had been made with places where people care about real coffee. Or about local music scenes, for that matter.
Of course AT&T’s WiFi services are much broader than this deal. I’ve already talked about my positive experience with AT&T customer service. I recently talked about configuring AT&T’s DSL to work with my Belkin WiFi router. So I probably sound like an AT&T shill, at this point. But I’m just a happy customer and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. Right?
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Haven’t found many details on the so-called “Tex-Mex mile” but it does sound like an interesting concept (and the series of restaurants is right by my place).
Here’s the best definition I’ve found so far (as part of a description of Jovita’s):
a one mile stretch of South First Street that has 11 Mexican Restaurants, a Mexican Bakery, Mexican Curios, Bar BQ, and a Funeral Home, just in case things get a little too spicy!
Another description, found in a mailing-list thread:
Tex-Mex Mile has a variety of inexpensive dining options, not all of which are nuclear hot
Tex-Mex Mile is S. 1st street from the river to Oltort, parallel to S. Congress, 2 blocks west
Comments on the following blog post mention a few places in connection with the “Tex-Mex mile” expression:
While they don’t use the same expression, food reviewers at the Austin Chronicle have described a stretch of South 1st in terms of its Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants. That was a few years ago and it’s quite possible that the “Tex-Mex mile” expression was coined later to describe pretty much the same series of restaurants. Included in the Chronicle‘s coverage was a convenient map.
So, according to the Austin Chronicle, we had (going South on S 1st Street):