Monthly Archives: March 2008

Wheel Reinvention and Geek Culture

In mainstream North American society, “reinventing the wheel” (investing efforts on something which has already been done) is often seen as a net negative.  “Don’t waste your time.” “It’s all been done.” “No good can come out of it.”

In geek culture, the mainstream stigma on wheel reinvention has an influence. But many people do spend time revisiting problems which have already been solved. In this sense, geek culture is close to scientific culture. Not everything you do is completely new. You need to attempt things several times to make sure there isn’t something you missed. Like scientists, geeks (especially engineering-type ones) need to redo what others have done before them so they can “evolve.” Geeks are typically more impatient in their quest for “progress” than most scientists working in basic research, but the connection is there.

Reasons for wheel reinvention abound. The need to practice before you can perform. The burden of supporting a deprecated approach. The restrictions placed on so-called “intellectual property.” The lack of inspiration by some people. The (in)famous NIH (“Not Invented Here”) principle.  The fact that, as Larry Wall say, “there is always another way.”

Was thinking about this because of a web forum in which I participate. Although numerous web forum platforms exist as part of “Content Management Systems,” several of them free of charge, this web developer created his own content management system, including forum support.

Overall, it looks like any other web forum.  Pretty much the same features. The format tags are somewhat non-standard, the “look-and-feel” is specific, but users probably see it as the exact same as any other forum they visit. In fact, I doubt that most users think about the forum implementation on a regular basis.

This particular forum was created at a time when free-of-charge Content Management Systems were relatively rare.  The site itself was apparently not meant to become very big. The web developer probably put together the forum platform (platforum?) as an afterthought since he mostly wanted to bring people to his main site.

Thing is, though, the forums on that particular site seem to be the most active part of the site. In the past, the developer has even referred to this situation as a problem. He would rather have his traffic go to the main pages on the site than to the forums. Several “bridges” exist between the forums and the main site but the two seem rather independent of one another. Maybe the traffic issue has been solved in the meantime but the forums remain quite active.

My perception is that the reasons for the forums’ success include some “social” dimensions (the forum readership) and technical dimensions (the “reinvented” forum platform). None of these factors could explain the forums’ success but, taken together, they make it easy to understand why the forums are so well-attended.

In social terms, these forums reach something of a niche market which happens to be expanding. The niche itself is rather geeky in the passion for a product category as well as in the troubleshooting approach to life. Forum readers and participants are often looking for answers to specific questions. The signal to noise ratio in most of the site’s forums seems, on average, particularly high. Most moderation happens seamlessly, through the community. While not completely invisible, the site’s staff is rarely seen in most forum threads. Different forums, addressing different categories of issues, attract different groups of people even though some issues cross over from one forum to another. The forum users’ aggregate knowledge on the site’s main topic is so impressive as to make the site look like the “one-stop shop” for any issue related to the site’s topic. At the same time, some approaches to the topic are typically favored by the site’s members and alternative sites have sprung up in part to counterbalance a perceived bias on that specific site. A sense of community has been built among some members of several of the forums and the whole forum section of the site feels like a very congenial place.

None of this seems very surprising for any successful web forum. All of the social dynamics on the site (including the non-forum sections) reinforce the idea that a site’s succes “is all about the people.”

But there’s a very simple feature of the site’s forum platform which seems rather significant: thread following through email. Not unique to this site and not that expertly implemented, IMHO. But very efficient, in context.

At the end of every post is a checkbox for email notification. It’s off by default so the email notification is “opt-in,” as people tend to call this. There isn’t an option to “watch” a thread without posting in it (that is, only people who write messages in that specific thread can be notified directly when a new message appears). When a new message appears in a specific thread, everyone who has checked the mail notification checkbox for a message in that thread receives a message at the email address they registered with the site. That email notification includes some information about the new forum post (author’s username, post title, thread title, thread URL, post URL) but not the message’s content. That site never sends any other mail to all users. Private mail is done offsite as users can register public email addresses and/or personal homepages/websites in their profiles.

There’s a number of things I don’t particularly enjoy about the way this email notification system works. The point is, though, it works pretty well. If I were to design a mail notification system, I would probably not do it the same way.  But chances are that, as a result, my forums would be less successful than that site’s forums are (from an outsider’s perspective).

Now, what does all this have to do with my original point, you ask? Simple: sometimes reinventing the wheel is the best strategy.


Ultimate Podcatcher and Podcast Player

Some raw notes… Again, I should revisit at some point.

 
 

Podcasting was hyped after iTunes support

Now stable, apparently

Has a lot of potential

Needs revolution

 
 

Directly on device

Download as you go

No need to synchronize

Always ready

Bookmarking

Multiple bookmarks in same track

Adding comments and notes

Viddler-like

Can add audio comment

Tags and categories

Can selectively update

Tags on read, liked, to-blog…

Links between podcasts (x-references)

Editing through device

    Sound editing

Skip sections at will

Skip to other section or episode, come back to same point

Podcasting content besides audio and video

    Limited PDF support

    Other eclosures 

Podcasting scene polluted by greed?

Radio models

Advertising/subscription/donation

Monetization schemes

How about podcasting as service?

Shout-outs?

Tecno-brega model 

Custom playlist

Recommendations  

 
 


ToBlog: Music-Related Links

Keeping these tabs open. Maybe I should clear my consc… browser and post about them.

But not just yet. I need more time as I try out the OLPC XO!

Ah well…

 

Creative Commons, Mixing, Royalty-Free Sounds, Sampling, OLPC, TamTam

http://ccmixter.org/

http://www.thumbuki.com/20080325/olpc-donates-85-gigs-of-samples.html

http://freesound.iua.upf.edu/articles.php?id=2

 

Access to music

http://www.jamendo.com/fr/

 

Musical playfulness, Windows equivalent to Apple’s GarageBand software

http://www.acoustica.com/mixcraft/

 

Nostalgia, musical collaboration, music performance

http://drakelelane.blogspot.com/2005/07/it-was-greatest-show-on-television.html

http://easydreamer.blogspot.com/2007/05/night-music.html


CC Salon: Creative Community

[Apologies in advance for style. More of a straightforward write-up than my usual prose. Quite possibly, most people prefer this but I feel more comfortable rambling away than “reporting.”]

Went to Austin CC Salon last night. CC Salon is a series of events “focused on building a community of artists and developers around Creative Commons licenses.”

Creative Commons (CC) licenses are tools meant to help creators in maintaining some rights over the “content” they produce (music, text, video…) while avoiding the chilling effects caused by Copyright and the “culture of ownership.” Though the Creative Commons organization was founded by a tech-savvy law professor and CC licenses are a tech-savvy solution to a legal problem, the social and cultural implications behind CC reach far beyond technological and legal contexts.

Last night’s event was held at Café Caffeine, a community-focused café/venue which happens to be in my neighborhood. The same café is host to the Jelly in Austin co-working sessions.

So… What happened last night at Café Caffeine?

A stimulating and thought-provoking event, to be sure. Also an event which provided the kind of casual and open atmosphere that I find most conducive for thoughtful discussion. In other words, I felt that I really was among like-minded people, despite all sorts of differences in our experiences and our approaches to technology and society.

Some of the people involved in last night’s event:

Neff presented The American Cancer Society‘s SharingHope.tv advocacy project and online video service. What made that site impressive, IMHO, was its adequate balance between message and technology. Such an important group as the American Cancer Society getting a high degree of geek cred. In some circles (including CC Salon, one would assume), it’s the best of both worlds.

Neff himself was remarkably enthusiastic, thoughtful, and level-headed in his approach to online video. Uncompromising in his dedication to the ACS mission and as poised as any developer can be in his approach to technological issues. In fact, Neff repeatedly referred to the importance of a respectful attitude toward users. And you could tell, from the way he talked about users, that he truly cares.

Neat!

For his part, Vázquez served as moderator and presented two online services meant to make it easy to find CC-licensed music online: Jamendo (a CC-friendly online music service with “pay what you want” compensation models) and CCMixter (mostly meant as a repository for remix-worthy samples).

In parallel to Vázquez’s presentation, mentions of several recent situations involving Copyright and Creative Commons licenses helped brush a clear picture of what the current “culture of ownership” implies.

But, again, what worked best for me went beyond what was said or even how it was said. My comfort level had more to do with a sense of belonging. Related to communitas. A community of experience, potentially the basis of a community of practice.

Overall, I hope CC Salon will become the basis for community building in Austin as elsewhere. Predictably, a significant portion of last night’s informal gathering was spent discussing legal, financial, and technical issues. But, clearly, these are people who are adept at crossing bridges in order to link people into actual communities.

Some random notes I took during and after CC Salon.

  • Exposure to CC
    • Importance
    • Methods
      • QR-Codes for CC content
    • Possible outcomes
  • Grassroots etiquette
    • Crowd’s shared values (not just “wisdom of crowds”)
    • Efficient in transition period
  • CC in academia/education
    • Related to Open Access
    • Citation practice
    • Citation software and services (Zotero, RefWorks, Google Scholar)
    • Following links between references
    • Scholarship as “remixing”
  • Random idea:
  • CC musicians
    • Jams
      • Trying each other out
      • Playing together
      • Playful musicking
    • Shows/concerts/gigs
    • Band
    • Music community
      • Kalmunity-like?
  • Mixing
    • Playful mixing
    • Audio editing (Pro Tools, Audition, Audacity…)
    • iLife GarageBand for CC?
    • Songbird for mixing?
    • CC loops
    • CC tracks
    • GB-like FLOSS project

Facebook Playing With My Mind

Took a look at the homepage for my Facebook account and I notice something new, below the birthday announcements. Some profile summaries with a mention that I might know these people. Nothing really awkward there, probably just a new feature. Although, Facebook has this strange (and potentially annoying) habit of changing features without warning us.

But still not mindblowing, or even mindplaying.

There’s a “Show All” button in that box and, when I click on it, I get to a Friend Finder page where I see a series of profile summaries with the heading: “People You May Know. Found based on your existing connections. Do you know any of these people? Add people you know as friends to make these results even better for you.”

Next to each profile summary:

You both know: [links to mutual friends]
Add To Friends|(View Friends)|Message

Again, nothing really weird. (Without warning,) Facebook browsed my connections and found some mutual friends. Some applications do things like these.

But, here’s where things get a bit less obvious: the first time I look at this page, I see a list of people I don’t recognize with mentions of some of my contacts (friends and acquaintances). Overall, these contacts are people I had assumed were unconnected. Granted, they all live or have lived in Montreal (my hometown). And some of them are somehow involved in music. But even the musicians among them are working in quite separate music scenes within Montreal’s music landscape.

According to this list, Richard (one of my contacts) has eleven connections in common with twelve of my friends and acquaintances. These twelve friends and acquaintances of mine presumably have little in common with the people that both Richard and I know. None of these twelve contacts of mine are connected directly to Richard on Facebook. They all know some of Richard’s contacts but my connections to them are very diverse: former students, former bandmates, a childhood friend, a fellow brewclub member, etc. I’ve met these people at very different stages of my life and I just couldn’t assume any of them would know one another. Again, all of these people have some connection to Montreal but given Montreal’s population, I find it quite surprising that my network would cluster so much across contact types.

I felt compelled to send a couple of messages about this. To Richard (this acquaintance of mine who seemed to have many mutual acquaintances with people I know). And to two of the people who were listed as possible acquaintances of mine (one of whom I probably did meet, a number of years ago).

Fascinating stuff for a social scientist like me.

But where it gets mindplaying is when, coming back to the Friend Finder page, the list of possible acquaintances is radically different from what it was the first time. This time, most of the people in the list belong to YulBlog, Montreal’s blogging community. That community has a relatively high clustering coefficient so I basically assumed that many of those YulBloggers are friends with some of my blogging friends. I did meet with several of these bloggers at blog meetings but I prefer letting them judge whether or not we should be linked through Facebook. So, this new Friend Finder page looks pretty normal, Which makes the first Friend Finder page seem more unusual. Playing with my mind.

It’s possible that the first Friend Finder page was a glitch. Facebook has been known to have some bugs recently, as they implement (some would say “impose”) changes in the way they handle things like privacy and contact lists. But, looking at Richard’s contact list, it does seem that these people really are all connected, albeit indirectly.

Lest you should mistake my enthusiasm for flabbergastment, I must say that while I find these connections surprising, I still understand that they’re fairly easy to explain. The effect, though, is one of puzzlement at the extent of the Small World Effect. I feel as though my world were much tinier and much more clustered than I had ever assumed. Especially the Montreal portion of my social world. And I thought my friends were diverse… 😉

Yes, I know. I should just draw the network chart and let people reach their own conclusions.

Ah, well…


Academia and Education: Am I Naïve?

Last year, I wrote a short post about academia and teaching which I meant to be fictional. In it, the character was listing things s/he had assumed about academia and asked not to be called “professor.”
The fact that it was supposed to be fictional wasn’t very clear and my perspective is in reality quite close to that of the character. Still, I wasn’t disillusioned with the system. I was mostly voicing concerns which I perceive are being whispered by friends and colleagues. In other words, I do think that academia should be about knowledge, etc. It’s just that I never truly assumed it was, in fact, all about these things. While I’m usually quite naïve, I don’t think I ever was that naïve about academia’s inner workings. That’s one of the advantages of being raised in an academic milieu. We become quite cynical by age ten.
For some reason, Polish blogger Przemysław Stencel (a fellow Moodle user, it seems) deemed my blogpost worthy of pinging. And his blog repinged my post today (maybe he changed something on his blog). What I hadn’t noticed is that his link to my post generated two short comments. In Polish.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t know Polish. Pushed those comments through automatic translation. In the first comment, from a year ago, Robert seems to say that he had hoped educational systems weren’t all like the one I had naïvely described. In the second comment, published last month, Sebastian seems to point out that these discussions have been going on for a number of years in Poland and elsewhere (citing Ivan Illich as an example).
Only heard about Illich fairly recently. Can’t remember where, possibly a TED talk. Been looking at some of Paolo Freire‘s work (some of which is available online). Perhaps annoyingly, I keep mentioning that my father was trained by Jean Piaget because I strongly believe that my perspectives on learning and academia were shaped at a young age.

To be honest, even at the time I posted my blog entry, I was rather happy with my teaching experiences. In fact, the post was written while I was teaching at Concordia University, an institution which is pretty close to my academic ideals. Almost all of the other institutions at which I’ve been lucky enough to teach were also compatible with my approach to teaching. And the way I describe it, my high school experience seems very positive in terms of learning and teaching. 🙂
The source of my naïve professor post wasn’t frustration with teaching. It wasn’t even a disillusion with academia. It had more to do with a transition period in academia and what I realized my attitude was toward changes in academic contexts.
For one thing, I want academics to think about teaching. Because I believe such reflections are important yet occur rather rarely. I don’t think it’s especially useful for academics to take on some specific teaching strategies but I do think it’s important to reflect on what teaching really means, in diverse contexts. Teaching at a North American research university. Teaching in an urban high school in Africa. Teaching informally through European conferences. Teaching online.
Many of us in academia complain about some of the changes facing “our” universities. The (in)famous “customer-based approach to education.” The growing “sense of entitlement.” Unsolvable problems with the tenure system. All sorts of issues with lack of funding, the high turnover rate of new faculty hires, the politics of being an intellectual in anti-intellectualist contexts. All of these are fascinating topics, especially among academics. Pent up frustration needs to be vented, especially if overworked professors are to remain sane.
Yet… My attitude is slightly different. As things are changing for many of our academic institutions, I want to think about where we want to go next. Call me a naïve idealist (sure, why not?) but I do think we can select some scenarios. As long as we look at diverse options.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that academics pay no attention to all the options available. But it’s rather remarkable how some options are rarely discussed while those options which are discussed most frequently remain within the strictest limits of the current system. Even among radical thinkers, there seems to be a tendency to push aside several possibilities before looking at all their implications.
One none-too-radical possibility which is rarely discussed is to improve adjunct positions into something of a mid-level category. As things stand, adjuncts are sometimes perceived as lowly versions of full-time professors (tenure-track or tenured). The conclusion which is often reached is that adjuncts should be replaced by “more tenure.” In fact, some bitter adjuncts complain that they never had a chance to go on tenure-track. As if the two position types were variants of the same position.
A few people have talked about the idea of having “teaching faculty” with better job security than adjuncts (say, renewable five year contracts). In French, such a position is sometimes labelled «professeur enseignant» (“teaching professor”) by opposition to «professeur chercheur» (“research professor”). Maybe less prestigious than research chairs and endowed positions, but still worth considering. It seems to me that people are rather too quick at rejecting “teaching faculty” options entirely and I’m not entirely sure why. Oh, I do understand the reasons they give me to reject the options (that we need more full professors, that Harvard shows that such teachers are exploited). Yet I have no idea why academics seem so unwilling to look into such “teaching professorship” models and prefer dismissing the very concept offhand.
Similarly, something as obvious as taking a fresh and dispassionate look at current models for PTR (promotion, tenure, reappointment) seems inconceivable to many a faculty member. Sure, there are countless committees tasked into rewriting PTR guidelines for their respective (and highly respected) institutions. And faculty meetings often focus on PTR, for hours on end. (Though, luckily, some PTR discussions I observed were thoughtful, peaceful, and efficient.) But what I think we need is an open-ended discussion of what PTR could become, in diverse contexts.
Nothing too radical. In fact, just the kind of work we ask our students to do.
Critical thinking. Dialogue. Exploring options. Temporarily suspending assumptions we may have about the way contemporary universities work. Brainstorming (!) on what could be, before we can look at what’s really doable.
In other words: I happen to think that we need to be more naïve, not less.

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How Do I Facebook?

In response to David Giesberg.

How Do You Facebook? | david giesberg dot com

How have I used Facebook so far?

  • Reconnected with old friends.
    • Bringing some to Facebook
    • Noticing some mutual friends.
  • Made some new contacts.
    • Through mutual acquaintances and foafs.
    • Through random circumstances.
  • Thought about social networks from an ethnographic perspective.
    • Discussed social networks in educational context.
    • Blogged about online forms of social networking.
  • “Communicated”
    • Sent messages to contacts in a relatively unintrusive way (less “pushy” than regular email).
    • Used “wall posts” to have short, public conversations about diverse items.
  • Micro-/nanoblogged, social-bookmarked:
    • Shared content (links, videos…) with contacts.
    • Found and discussed shared items.
    • Used my “status update” to keep contacts updated on recent developments on my life (something I rarely do in my blogposts).
  • Managed something of a public persona.
    • Maintained a semi-public profile.
    • Gained some social capital.
  • Found an alternative to Linkup/Upcoming/MeetUp/GCal?
    • Kept track of several events.
    • Organized a few events.
  • Had some aimless fun:
    • Teased people through their walls.
    • Answered a few quizzes.
    • Played a few games.
    • Discovered bands through contacts who “became fans” of them (I don’t use iLike).

Country Nomenclature: A Resolution

[With apologies to Alphonse Allais, Captain Cap, and Jonathan Swift]

Dr. Howard P. Walsh, Ph.D.
President and CEO, American Foundation for Common Sense (AFCS)

My beloved Americans,

Citizens of our Great American Nation are known for many accomplishments in all spheres of life. As the world’s first and most prestigious democracy, we are held to the highest of standards yet we invariably meet and exceed those standards. As the most beloved Nation in the world, our country is also the most advanced in areas such as social solidarity, healthcare, human rights, and geography.
This last point, geography, is the one I will emphasize today. Students of our public and private school systems repeatedly score higher than any other student on the planet in terms of a thorough knowledge of human, political, and physical geography. This is all well and good as it’s one of many opportunities for the world to see the grandeur of the United States of America. What I submit to you, however, is that the amount of time and money spent learning country names would be better spent elsewhere.
At the risk of shocking you, I wish to bring to your attention the fact that the world is a mess. Unlike our great country, too many places around the world have names which are difficult to remember. Worse, many places have very similar names, making it very confusing for even the most learned professor to remember which country, between Pakistan and Palestine, is among our Valued Allies. I have graduate degrees from several of the most prestigious schools of the land yet, for the life of me, I cannot remember which country does cuckoo clocks and chocolate. Is it Sweden or Swaziland? Your guess is as good as mine. And as we shift our attention from Iraq to Iran, how can we make sure that the public opinion isn’t mistaking our successes in Iraq for our future successes in Iran?
Through our missions around the world, we are constantly making the world a better place. Getting rid of unnecessary state structures, replacing deprecated governments with improved administrations, streamlining the Middle East and The Orient… Eventually, this process will make it possible for us to change old country names with new ones. But this process takes time and our children need those names to change now, so that they can move on to other projects.
What I propose today is a simple change which can have large effects on our society and on the world as a whole: change country names with numbers.
Who, among us, fails to appreciate the beauty of numbered streets and avenues in Manhattan? How could anyone not marvel at the simplicity of the Interstate numbering system which makes it so easy for everyone to drive all across our land? What I propose today is a simple extension of this principle to the map of the world.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that our country will remain the first country. I can already hear children in the streets of every country on the planet chant one of our favorite mantras: “U.S.A., #1.” With the Olympic Games fast approaching, I hope that we can move fast so that, as our athletes win every major competition over there, the cheers they hear can have a lasting effect on World Peace and Unity.
As a natural partner, Canada will be number 2. Now, I know it may seem like a great honor for such a small country but I feel that the Canadian president has been such a friendly ally of ours over the past few years that his country deserves a pat in the back. Perhaps more than anyone, the harmless country of Canada can understand the value of being “number two.”
I propose China to come in third place. The Chinese landmass is almost as big as ours and giving them number 3 will help our nation’s good folks remember that China is the Third World.
I will submit the full list of countries with numbers to the CIA so that they can update their World Factbook as soon as possible.
Numbering countries is but the first step in my simple plan. As a second step, regions and cities will be specified using legal numbering. For instance, what Canadians call the “Providence of Quebec” will be called 2.0 while Montreal will be called 2.0.1.
Country capitals will be designated as the first city in the first state of the country. London, for instance, will be called 4.1.1, Baghdad will be called 9.1.1, and Abidjan, the capital of Nigeria, will be called 56.1.1.
There is the matter of verbiage to use for these designations. To avoid mistakes, military personnel will standardize on using the word “point” for the decimal point. However, in accordance with our nation’s usage, both “point” and “dot” forms will be accepted so that “five-dot-two” is understood as meaning 5.2 (County Cork, in Ireland). Because of time constraints, I expect television reporters to skip the “point” or “dot” method in their work. In fact, I can just hear our nation’s top journalists bring the news to the American public that “the American military has just bombed seven-one out of the map.”
While I see major advantages of my numbering scheme for our children’s education, all occasions requiring the use of foreign designation will benefit from the change: game shows, news stories, wars, study abroad, and vacations. Though these seem like limited contexts, I can tell you that even if it were just a way to lift the heavy burden of media corporations and journalism schools around the country, the savings will be enough to finance a large number of radio and television stations.
News correspondents will use these designations to specify their location, saving time and confusion. Nobody would dispute that “Adam Johnson in twelve-one-one” is much more efficient a signoff than “Adam Johnson in Pyongyang.”
Expenditures on foreign language training will be cut down significantly as travelers will find their way around those places overseas by simply looking at numbered locations instead of trying to read place names in exotic languages.
American companies doing business abroad will clearly benefit from my designations. For instance, Google China will be called “Google 3” and MTV Africa will be called “MTV 12.”
As I’m sure you’ll agree, my plan will benefit everyone equally. Business owners, journalists, travelers, and high school students. Even office workers will support my resolution as Excel spreadsheets will be much easier to sort and PowerPoint slides will be much clearer.
The final phase of my plan is for continents to be designated by letters. As they failed to embark in modernity, Africa will be given an F. As the head of the class, America clearly deserves an A+.

I trust that you will adopt my resolution promptly so that we can solve other problems facing the world, like the price of oil and the value of the dollar.

Thank you.

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Giving Flock a Chance

In the past, the deal-breaker with Flock has been the WordPress.com bug. Basically, I would get nagged by Flock every time I visited my main blog. After a number of months, it was enough for me to put Flock on the backburner. Besides, on Mac OS X 10.4.11, Safari shows excellent performance, which didn’t tend to be the case with Flock.
On Twitter, a member of the Flock team noticed that I had issues with Flock. So I thought I’d give the browser another chance. What made me do it now is Mahalo’s Firefox plugin.
We’ll see how all of this works.

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Is Search Broken? Some Mahalo Insight

Interesting Scoblevision video about “human-powered search” firm Mahalo.
Part I of Inside Mahalo, the Human Produced Search Engine | FastCompany.TV
An interesting section (at about 13 minutes) is with Eric Stephens, who’s “director of user experiences” for Mahalo. In the Mahalo “lab,” Stephens does something very close to an open-ended interview. Don’t know if Stephens has a background in ethnography but his methods are pretty ethnographic. In fact, those methods are even closer to what is done in British ethnography these days than to typical North American ethnography. Maybe just a coincidence but, in my mind, a good point for Mahalo as a company.

Most of the interview focuses on Jason Calacanis, Mahalo’s founder and CEO.
To be honest, Mahalo and Calacanis are kind of growing on me. One set of reasons has to do with JaCal’s most recent TWiT contributions and Véronique Belmont‘s role in the startup. Doesn’t sound very rational but at least I acknowledge these biases.

There’s another side to my enhanced appreciation for Mahalo and Calacanis, and this side is more rational. I recently got this strange feeling recently that search was broken. I began to notice that my Google or Yahoo searches weren’t as effective as before. After blaming myself, I came to a conclusion which resonates with what Calacanis is saying here. The need for more and more reformulation of queries (with more and more words), SEO/result-spam, information overload, etc. One outcome of this “search is broken” feeling is that I spend more time going directly to a Wikipedia page by typing the URL directly instead of trying a search. Another is that I’m progressively giving Mahalo a chance.
Though I haven’t really integrated Mahalo in my routine yet, I do feel a bit like I felt when I first saw a beta version of Google.
Did I drink the Kool-Aid? Maybe a few sips.

Another point I can connect with: the blogging community as peanut gallery. Of course, some people talk about reactions to the Lacy/Zuckerberg interview as displaying mob mentality. But there’s more to it than that. In the aforementioned video, Calacanis talks about ignoring bloggers because they don’t represent the core user group for his company’s main product. Even though I blog quite frequently and now consider blogging a part of my identity, I can’t help but agree with Calacanis on this. In fact, some of that sentiment was behind my “geek niche” post just before SXSWi. Sure, bloggers and other ‘Net-savvy people are fascinating and influential in the context of online services. But they (we) still tend to represent a small proportion of the global population. Because of idealism and sociocentrism, several people would probably argue that despite clustering effect and limited demography, bloggers and geeks are “winning.” But social Darwinism has no place in this scenario.


Playfully Noted

Got a number of things about which I want to blog. Many of them in notes/outline form. Might have to wait a bit.

But one thing which keeps coming up is the notion of playfulness. Been blogging about it a bit over the years,  especially since this February 2006 post which was connected with my teaching. The next day, I was posting a short entry in French about playfulness in music. Music playing in the strongest sense. Free play.

That was over two years ago. Flies are being timed.
Still thinking about playfulness quite a bit. In music, learning, technology…
What I mean by playfulness is rather simplistic, but it works: free, undirected, aimless, open behavior. Acts of playfulness, in my mind, appear not to be goal-oriented nor competitive. Extremely low stakes. Failure isn’t even registered. No evaluation whatsoever. The opposite of performance, to go back to performance theory which inspired part of that first entry.
Of course, my notion of playfulness might be different to that of many of the people who work on and “play with” games. Some people conceive of fun as embedded in competition. As I’m personally not very competition-driven, my conception and perception are different.
I’m neither a game theorist nor an avid gamer. At best, I’d be labelled as one of those “casual gamers” game developers are finally trying to reach. So: I’m no expert. But I do enjoy discussions of playfulness facilitated by those who work on game. Thanks in part to the video game industry, playfulness is making its way into the technology/education confluence as well as in corporate circles.
Some recent things I’ve thought about in terms of playfulness.
Playing music on Touch devices or other handhelds. My French post on “easy musicking” mentioned Electroplankton. Other forms of handheld musicking:

Can’t help but think that handheld music can really “spring up,” especially in terms of casual musicking. With the release of the software development kit for Apple’s Touch devices, there’s mindshare for handhelds as ultimate interface.

Of course, music games are gaining attention and people are jumping on the bandwagon. After all, music games may mean big business. Usually, I blog about music at Critical World or at my ethnomusicology course blog. Here, I’m mostly thinking about playfulness. And music games aren’t really playful in my sense of the term. Too competitive.

In terms of playful learning, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about “playing with data.” In part thanks to Gapminder, that I just discovered through Google Spreadsheets (even though Gapminder’s Trendalyzer software has been acquired by Google over a year ago). In my mind, Hans Rosling’s 2006 and 2007 TED presentations about Gapminder really capture the spirit of playful learning. Especially in connection to critical thinking, open-mindedness, creativity, and cultural awareness. (Anthro FTW!)

Now, if I could only get paid to do a project on using Touch devices for playful musicking in learning contexts… 😉


Obvious Concept: Confidentiality (Draft)

In response to Émilie Pelletier, who replied to my previous post on “intimacy.” That previous post of mine wasn’t  well thought out and I hesitated before pushing the “Publish” button. But given Émilie’s thoughtful response, I’m glad I posted it. It makes for a somewhat more “interactive conversation” (!)  than the typical blogging session.

What seems in what I describe is that “social media” are about managing the way “content” is transmitted (on Twitter, YouTube, del.icio.us, Facebook, BitTorrent, LinkedIn…). In this sense, “social media” are quite easy to understand, even though the diversity of “social media” systems  available obscures this simplicity. Hence the cyclical discussions about what constitutes “Web 2.0” and what is coming next.

The “obvious concept” I was trying to describe in my previous is a simplified version of the concept of “intimacy” we all seem to have in mind. Émilie did a good job at describing important dimensions of intimacy in social life and I should address those later. Admittedly, my use of the term “intimacy” was quite confusing and not at all obvious. The concept I tried to describe seems to me rather obvious but it doesn’t make it easy to describe or name. I know, some people might jump at this and say that what is easy to understand must be easy to explain. Yet many concepts are rather easy to grasp and quite hard to explain, especially in a “one-way conversation” such as a blogpost.

Anyhoo.

“Intimacy” isn’t such a good word for what I meant. I didn’t want to use “privacy” because it’s being used for slightly different purposes, in those social media. I could have worked to define “privacy” more precisely but I thought the term itself would have prevented further discussion since “privacy” is so well-known, in “social media.” Again, I agree with Émilie that “intimacy” isn’t more accurate, but it seems to have worked in making people think. Nice!

Come to think of it, “confidentiality” would possibly work better. In these same social media (e.g, Facebook), «confidentialité» is the translation of “privacy” but there are differences between the two concepts. Putting “trust” and “confidant” in relation to “confidentiality” gets closer to the slightly more subtle transmission management I had in mind. Some items are shared “in private” based on a level of trust that nothing will leak out, neither the content nor the fact that content was transmitted. Other items can be shared through controlled (semi-private) channels with the intention of “spreading out” the item and making the transmission known. Quite frequently, such transmission is more effective at “becoming viral” because content is properly contextualized. The “contract” of any transmission of information has such rules embedded in them and “sharing content online” is simple enough a process to be formalized in these ways.
The other dimension we tend to embed in “online content transmission” is what’s often called “reputation” or “authority” in those same “social media.” Again, very simplified versions of what happens in communication broadly, but the simple social models work well in those simplified “social media.” The “receiver” of the content may trust the “sender” based on a series of simple criteria. Trained to think that we should never “trust information” based on the sender, I used to (and still) react negatively to notions of “trust,” “authority,” or “reputation.” Slashdot’s concept of “karma” seemed somewhat better at the time because it sets apart the social capital from a notion of “blind faith.” I now understand more clearly what role trust might play in receiving content, especially in preventing malware to spread or managing our concentration. Simplified, this concept of trust is only indirectly about the value of the content itself. It’s more about assessing the risks involved in the content transmission event. In other words, we should only open email attachments from  people we trust and, even then, we know there are risks involved in opening attachments.

So, going back to the obvious concept I’m circling around. What Facebook just did in terms of privacy controls  does seem to connect with what I have in mind. Not only can we group contacts but we can finally use these groups to manage how widely some content may be distributed. Neat and rather easy. But some dimensions could be added to make content transmission approximate a bit better the sophistication of social life. For instance, there could be ways to make intermediate receivers understand how widely the content can be “redistributed.” Is it “for your eyes only” or is it “please distribute to all like-minded people?” An easy step to take, here, would be to add a type of license-control reminiscent of Creative Commons, on user-generated content. There could be something about the original creator of the content (“I’m only posting this because I like, I don’t claim ownership”). Ratings, which are so common in “social media” could be added and fleshed out so that a creator could key her/his work in the right frame.

Ok, I’m rambling even more now than before. So I’ll leave this post as-is and see what happens.

No, I won’t even replace all those quotation marks or correct my mistakes. RERO.

Do with this post as you want. I’m just thinking out loud.  And laughing on the inside.


Obvious Concept: Intimacy

Quite obvious a concept, but it could simplify some things in so-called “social media” and other online applications of social network analysis. In simple terms, why can’t we control (“slide up and down”) the “degree of friendship” implied in sharing an item? Because some people, North Americans especially, have an ideal of “equalization” in social relationships? Fair enough. “Friendship” in the U.S. often means “friendliness” or mere “reciprocity.” But, as most people realize, the content we share (microblog posts, funny pictures, academic references, music files…) is meant for a specific audience which can range from an audience of one (for archiving or “private communication”) to an audience of millions (everyone who can read English, for instance).
Most “social media” systems out there allow users to share items in private or to “the whole wide world.” Some systems have “privacy settings” so that one can distribute items selectively to a number of people without “leaking” the item to the public sphere. And the “social network” dimension often implies that people’s “inner circle” serves as the primary audience for items which are semi-public.
Contrary to what some people seem to assume (especially in educational contexts), these systems often mean that users think about privacy quite a lot. In fact, strategies to control how private or how public an item should become run at the center of those online systems.
Yet, most people have much more elaborate concepts of privacy and intimacy, much more “granular” ways to approach information sharing than what is involved in almost any online tool available. Put simply, users often know very precisely how widespread they want an item to become and how fast it can spread but they often don’t have ways to control these.
We all have strategies to cope with these issues in face-to-face relationships (what some like to call “meatspace”). For instance, breaching secrets is often considered a serious offence resulting in loss of face which, in turn, leads to avoidance strategies and other social control mechanism. Our social tools are more advanced than our online tools.
What’s funny is that some very simple solutions could be found to overcome discrepancies in sophistication between social and online relationships. An obvious example is the use of “groups,” “tags,” and “scopes.” These are already available and we can select a specific audience for a specific message (at least on Facebook, not on Twitter). But this “audience selection” process is rather cumbersome and most people end up posting things for much larger audiences to hear than what was originally intended. Some entrepreneurs are also thinking about the economic and ludic aspects of social capital, reifying “importance” with a form of currency in symbolic exchange.
All good and well. But adoption of these solutions depends on a number of factors, including the “transaction costs” and the “workflow integration.”
If these all fail, we’ll just have to bet on the ingenuity of teenagers to come up with new ways to use what was once known as “Web 2.0 technologies.”
Ah, well…


Textured Away

Not my usual type of blogpost, but… Why not?

Been using dry granular textured vegetable protein (TVP) quite a bit, recently. Versatile, cheap , durable, easy, and quick. Better tasting than I remember. Still not that tasty by itself, of course, but it takes the flavor of whatever you add to it. In other words, it “carries” taste instead of contributing much to it.

Been mixing TVP with different spices and other ingredients. With soy, garlic, and ginger. Or with chili spices and onions. Even with homemade gravy or with store-bought BBQ sauce. Works really well on a tortilla. Easy to use in soups.

Perfect for quick snacks. With my GERD, eating small portions several times a day is very beneficial. My TVP snacks tend to fill me just enough to feel satiated without feeling full.

Since I’m a meat eater, I ‘ll probably start mixing TVP with meat products. My perception is that, with TVP, I can cut on fat a bit while having enough protein to make it feel like a meal. Given my girth, this practice might pave the way to other neat things in my nutrition and health.

At the same time, it’s not like I’ll go full-TVP all the way. I like to vary my diet as much as possible.

Unfortunately, I don’t find TVP in the USDA’s Nutrients Database. No idea why, actually.

Ah, well…


Waiting for Zuckerberg/Lacy Transcript

Started watching the video but I really want to wait until I can read the transcript. Chances are that the transcript may reveal a different story from the “trainwreck” consensus opinion. It seems to me rather likely that the interview itself was barely mediocre until people started reacting through audible groans and shared tweets.

Ah, well…

In the meantime, here’s the complete video.

Clips: The complete Mark Zuckerberg/Sarah Lacy video


Learning Interviews and Ethnography

As an ethnographer, I care a fair bit about interviewing techniques and styles. Not that interviews are the only method we use. We do participant-observation, preliminary research, quantitative analysis, genealogy… But skills at conducting open-ended interviews come in handy in ethnographic disciplines.

It then follows that I enjoy finding examples of effective and ineffective interviewing. Typically, interviews in mainstream media (MSM) contain useful material on what not to do in an interview.

This is exactly what I consider yesterday’s Lacy-Zuckerberg “keynote” to be: an example of what should be avoided at all costs while doing an insightful interview. Not so bad if all you want to do is dig dirt. But abysmal in terms of insight.

Apparently, jscholars and media experts agree about the value of the Lacy-Zuck fiasco for learning moments:

Even though I’m local to SXSW, I wasn’t at the keynote (I don’t have a SXSWi badge). I mostly looked at live reactions after they had been posted and briefly discussed the session with someone who did attend. I’m still trying to make sense of what happened which is a bit difficult in the fickleness of media (“geek” or mainstream).

Some of the most impactful live reactions were posted on Twitter, with Robert Scoble as a central figure. Some of those reactions were rather harsh, even insulting. Given my cynicism toward MSM, I assumed that part of those reactions were exacerbated by the situation. And while I now think that the interview was even more inappropriate than I thought it had been, I still think part of the groaning was self-generated. After all, it’s not like MSM weren’t already filled with I-Show self-congratulatory interviews.

To be honest (and I can certainly be wrong): my guess is that what started as relatively mild disappointment at the way the interview was going transformed into audible/visible reactions as well as “tweets” (text updates on Twitter), which then caused a sort of feedback loop. Those who weren’t twittering at the point might still have reacted audibly and/or visibly. Since, as human beings, we’re quite clueful in terms of people’s paralanguage (“body language”), this scenario doesn’t sound as absurd as some attendees might assume.

In fact, people keep mentioning Sarah Lacy’s paralanguage (including proxemics and kinesics), which makes me suspect that the communication break may have spilled over from non-linguistic clues.

I sure hope the Language Log gang will pick this story up as it can make for a very interesting discussion among language scientists. Should probably send something to the Linguistic Anthropology blog.

The paralinguistic dimension reminds me of the history of televised debates, especially the Nixon-Kennedy case. Haven’t seen the Zuckerberg-Lacy transcript yet but it does sound like the verbal component of the interview was less problematic than the aural and visual dimensions. Maybe I’m too much of a fan of orality, but I’m looking forward to reading the complete transcript. And watching the complete video.

Interestingly, Lacy herself seems to focus on the “written” content, in response to the controversy. Quite clear in this video, even more so in her twittered reply. Both the video and the tweet are already (in)famous. Hopefully they can help people take a step back and look at the situation as a whole. The authority/legitimacy/jschool-cred angles are easy to follow. And the “in my book” comment is too funny in context to pass up (Lacy kept promoting her hardcopy book). The “high profile” comment is very intriguing. Maybe Lacy expected something more out of “South-by” than a chance to “moderate a keynote” in front of highly-involved participants.

Ah, well…

My motto remains: “Don’t get angry. Get a Clue!”

Hadn’t realized until just now that Sarah Lacy was the same journalist who wrote about her sour grapes over the TED conference. That one was another story I found interesting, especially in terms of the geek niche. Lacy, and others, seem to worry about “geek fame.” Reactions to her “Zuck” interview seem to imply she’s easily star-struck.

Which brings us to gender. Many people, including or even especially women, are referring to Lacy as a ditz. Many talk about her Valley Girl speech (part paralanguage, of course). Not to mention that her BusinessWeek column is called Valley Girl. Plus, the apparently-flirtatious behavior is clearly gendered. Not that her gender was the root cause of the fiasco. But the fiasco has an obvious gender dimension. A man acting the same way would probably not have fared much better but the reactions would have been quite different. Not kinder, just different.

The “mob mentality” and “flashmob” aspects can also lead to insight into geek culture. In simple terms, this is what anybody would call a “tough crowd.” “Lions in the arena” sounds like a fitting analogy. Was Lacy an amazone? Clearly, there are parallels to make with Michelle Madigan at DefCon. In that situation, a self-assured MSM journalist was shunned from a hacker conference for failing to play by the rules set by the audience. Sarah Lacy is being burnt partly because she failed to play to her audience.

The larger lesson is: context is key.

 


Educational Touch: Handhelds in Schools

The more I think about it, the more Touch-style handhelds seem to make sense in educational and academic contexts. They don’t need to be made by Apple. But Apple’s devices are inspiring in this respect.

Here’s a thought, which would be a deal-maker for many an instructor: automatically turn off all student cellphones. A kind of “classroom mode,” similar to the “airplane mode” already on the iPhone. And it could apply to non-phone devices (i.e., the iPod touch and future models in those Touch lines). An instructor could turn off all audio out from the all the handheld devices in the room. Or turn them all on, if needed. This could even be location-based, if the devices have sufficiently precise positioning systems.
To go even further, one might imagine some control over what apps may be used during class. Turning off games, for instance. Or chat. Or limit browsing to the LAN. Not “always off,” mind you. But selectively opting out of some of the handhelds’ features. Temporarily.

In most situations, such controls seem overly restrictive to me. Apart from preventing cellphones from ringing during lecture, I typically want to let students as free as possible. But I do know that many of my colleagues (not just admins) would just love it if they could limit some of the things students can do during class with such devices.

One obvious context for such limits is an in-class exam. If they could easily prevent students from using non-allowed materials during an exam, many teachers would likely appreciate the convenience of exams on handhelds. Just imagine: automatic grading and grade reporting, easy transfer of answers, access to rich multimedia content, seamless interface…
As was obvious to me during the Apple event yesterday, Touch-style handhelds could be excellent tools for “distance education.” Learners and teachers could be anywhere and the handhelds could make for more direct collaboration than large lectures. Advantages of handhelds over laptops are less obvious here than in classroom contexts but it’s easy to think of fieldwork situations in which learners could collaborate with experts from just about anywhere there is a wireless connection. Immediate access to learning materials at almost any moment.

And podcasting. While podcasting got a big boost when iTunes began podcast support, there’s a lot which could be done to improve podcasting and podcast management. As iPod media devices, Touch handhelds have good playback features already. But there could be so much more in terms of interacting with (multimedia) content. Transcripts, tags, associated slides, audio comments, fast-speed playback, text notes, video responses, links, cross-references, playback statistics, waveform-based navigation…

Podcasting can still become big.  It’s now a “household concept” but it’s not as mainstream nor as life-changing as many hoped it’d become, back in 2005. I’m not really forecasting anything but I can envision contexts in which enhance podcasting feautres could make our lives easier. Especially in schools.

Education in general (and university education in particular) may be the context where podcasting’s potential is most likely to be realized. Though the technological basis for podcasting is quite general in scope (RSS enclosures, podcatching software, etc.), podcasting often feels like an educational solution, first and foremost.

A lot has been said about educational uses of podcasting. Early reports showed some promising results with those teachers who were willing to think creatively about the technology. I personally enjoyed a number of advantages of podcasting in my own courses, including several imponderables. Software packages meant for lecturecasts (podcast lectures) already exist. Apple’s own iTunes U is specifically geared toward university education using podcasts.

But there’s still something missing. Not just for podcasts. For handheld “educational technology.”
Momentum? Possibly. Where would it come from, though?

Killer devices? Apple already pushes its own devices (including the iPod touch) for “Mobile Learning.”

Cool apps? Haven’t really looked at the Web apps but it seems likely that some of them can already lead to epiphanies and “teaching moments.” Not to mention that tons of excellent learning software will surely come out of Cocoa Touch development.

Funding? My feeling is that apart from providing financial support for user-driven and development projects, “educational technology” monies are often spent unwisely. The idea isn’t to spend money but to “unleash the potential” of learners and teachers.

Motivation? Many learners and teachers are ready and it would be absurd to force anyone to become enthusiastic about a specific tool or technology.

My guess is that the main thing we need to make “mobile learning” a reality is to take a step back and look at what is already possible. Then look at what can become possible. And just start playing around with ideas and tools.

Learning is a component of playfulness.


Touch Devices in Education

Repost from: Lounge: Apple Touch Devices in the Classroom?

(Some redundant parts from the last post.)

Watched and blogged about Apple’s enterprise and development media event, yesterday. The event was about what I call “Touch” products (iPhone and iPod Touch).
One thing which struck me is that Phil Schiller started the enterprise section of that presentation with some comments about Stanford. Now, I’m not one to favor the customer-based model of education. I still see Stanford as being about knowledge more than about financial profit.
Still, this all got me thinking: What if we started using Apple’s Touch products in the classroom? Distributing and sharing documents around the group as we are working on diverse projects. Streaming lecture material (audio, video, slides) directly to learners’ handhelds on which they can take notes. Synchronous and asynchronous chats. Collaborative editing. Task management
For that matter, even Microsoft Exchange could make sense in this context. Some campuses already use it for faculty but it’d make perfect sense to have push email, calendars, and contacts on school devices. Secure connections. Global address list. Remote wiping if the device gets stolen or lost.
Even the application distribution system (using the App Store), which may make some developers cringe, could make some sense for schools. Controlling which applications are on school devices sounds awful from the perspective of many a tech enthusiasts, but it could sound really good to school IT managers.
In this sense, Touch devices could make more sense than traditional laptop programs for education. Better battery life, somewhat lower cost, better security, easier maintenance… A Touch program could even have some advantages over newer generation laptop programs, especially in terms of “control.”

I know, I know… I’m sounding like a Pointy-Haired Boss. I’m surprised myself. I guess that, as an ethnographer, I tend to put myself in someone else’s shoes. In this case, it happens to be the shoes of a school administrator.
Of course, I prefer Open devices. In this sense, Google’s Android would satisfy my Open-loving side more than Apple’s Touch products. It’s just that admins tend not to like openness so much and they’re the ones who need to be convinced.


Touch Thoughts: Apple’s Handheld Strategy

I’m still on the RDF.
Apple‘s March 6, 2008 event was about enterprise and development support for its iPhone and iPod touch lines of handheld devices. Lots to think about.

(For convenience’s sake, I’ll lump together the iPod touch and the iPhone under the name “Touch,” which seems consistent with Apple’s “Cocoa Touch.”)

Been reading a fair bit about this event. Interesting reactions across the board.

My own thoughts on the whole thing.
I appreciate the fact that Phil Schiller began the “enterprise” section of the event with comments about a university. Though universities need not be run like profit-hungry corporations, linking Apple’s long-standing educational focus with its newly invigorated enterprise focus makes sense. And I had a brief drift-off moment as I was thinking about Touch products in educational contexts.

I’m surprised at how enthusiastic I get about the enterprise features. Suddenly, I can see Microsoft’s Exchange make sense.

I get the clear impression that even more things will come into place at the end of June than has been said by Apple. Possibly new Touch models or lines. Probably the famous 3G iPhone. Apple-released apps. Renewed emphasis on server technology (XServe, Mac OS X Server, XSan…). New home WiFi products (AirPort, Time Capsule, Apple TV…). New partnerships. Cool VC-funded startups. New features on the less aptly named “iTunes” store.

Though it was obvious already, the accelerometer is an important feature. It seems especially well-adapted to games and casual gamers like myself are likely to enjoy games this feature makes possible. It can also lead to very interesting applications. In fact, the “Etch and Sketch” demo was rather convincing as a display of some core Touch features. These are exactly the features which help sell products.
Actually, I enjoyed the “wow factor” of the event’s demos. I’m convinced that it will energize developers and administrators, whether or not they plan on using Touch products. Some components of Apple’s Touch strategy are exciting enough that the more problematic aspects of this strategy may matter a bit less. Those of us dreaming about Android, OpenMoko, or even a revived NewtonOS can still find things to get inspired by in Apple’s roadmap.

What’s to come, apart from what was announced? No idea. But I do daydream about all of this.
I’m especially interested in the idea of Apple Touch as “mainstream, WiFi, mobile platform.” There’s a lot of potential for Apple-designed, WiFi-enabled handhelds. Whether or not they include a cellphone.
At this point, Apple only makes five models of Touch products: three iPod touches and two iPhones. Flash memory is the main differentiating factor within a line. It makes it relatively easy to decide which device to get but some product diversity could be interesting. While some people expect/hope that Apple will release radically new form factors for Touch devices (e.g., a tablet subnotebook), it’s quite likely that other features will help distinguish Apple’s Touch hardware.
Among features I’d like to get through software, add-ons, or included in a Touch product? Number of things, some alluded to in the “categories” for this post. Some of these I had already posted.

  • Quality audio recording (to make it the ideal fieldwork audio tool).
  • eBook support (to compete with Amazon’s Kindle).
  • Voice support (including continuous dictation, voice interface…).
  • Enhanced support for podcasting (interacting with podcasts, sending audio/video responses…)
  • Video conferencing (been thinking about this for a while).
  • GPS (location will be big).
  • Mesh networking (a neat feature of OLPC’s XO).
  • Mobile WiMAX (unlikely, but it could be neat).
  • Battery pack (especially for long trips in remote regions).
  • Add-on flash memory (unlikely, but it could be useful, especially for backup).
  • Offline storage of online content (likely, but worth noting).
  • Inexpensive model (especially for “emerging markets”).
  • Access to 3G data networks without cellular “voice plan” (unlikely, but worth a shot).
  • Alternative input methods (MessagEase, Graffiti, adaptive keyboard, speech recognition…).
  • Use as Mac OS X “host” (kind of like a user partition).
  • Bluetooth/WiFi data transfer (no need for cables and docks).
  • MacBook Touch (unlikely, especially with MacBook Air, but it could be fun).
  • Automatic cell to VoIP-over-WiFi switching (saving cell minutes).

Of course, there are many obvious ones which will likely be implemented in software. I’m already impressed by the Omni Group’s pledge to develop a Touch version of their flagship GTD app.


Siberian-North American Language Link

Missed this one from a few days ago. This could have important archeological and anthropological ramifications. LINGUIST List 19.717: Linguists demonstrate Siberian-North American link