Monthly Archives: July 2008

Enthused Tech

Yesterday, I held a WiZiQ session on the use of online tech in higher education:

Enthusing Higher Education: Getting Universities and Colleges to Play with Online Tools and Services

Slideshare

(Full multimedia recording available here)

During the session, Nellie Deutsch shared the following link:

Diffusion of Innovations, by Everett Rogers (1995)

Haven’t read Rogers’s book but it sounds like a contextually easy to understand version of ideas which have been quite clear in Boasian disciplines (cultural anthropology, folkloristics, cultural ecology…) for a while. But, in this sometimes obsessive quest for innovation, it might in fact be useful to go back to basic ideas about the social mechanisms which can be observed in the adoption of new tools and techniques. It’s in fact the thinking behind this relatively recent blogpost of mine:

Technology Adoption and Active Reading

My emphasis during the WiZiQ session was on enthusiasm. I tend to think a lot about occasions in which, thinking about possibilities afforded technology relates to people getting “psyched up.” In a way, this is exactly how I can define myself as a tech enthusiast: I get easy psyched up in the context of discussions about technology.

What’s funny is that I’m no gadget freak. I don’t care about the tool. I just love to dream up possibilities. And I sincerely think that I’m not alone. We might even guess that a similar dream-induced excitement animates true gadget freaks, who must have the latest tool. Early adopters are a big part of geek culture and, though still small, geek culture is still a niche.

Because I know I’ll keep on talking about these things on other occasions, I can “leave it at that,” for now.

RERO‘s my battle cry.

TBC


Naming Significance

Been thinking about names again.

Partly because of Lexicon Branding, a Sausalito, CA firm specialized in naming research for brands.

As it so happens, my master’s thesis was on proper names. I mainly focused on anthroponyms (personal names) and toponyms (place names), but the connection is obvious between Lexicon’s work and what I have done in the past.

In the past, I have mostly worked in a semiotic framework. The discipline of semiotics has lost some of its mainstream prominence but semiotic approaches are in fact quite common in social sciences, humanities, and marketing. My own training in semiotics has helped me integrate language sciences and music studies with symbolic anthropology and ethnographic approaches. Calling myself a “semiotician” might not seem like an excellent strategy to get a good job. But my training in semiotics can be quite useful in many contexts.

Within semiotics, I have mostly focused on names and on music. My master’s thesis was on proper names used in Malian praise-songs and my Ph.D. dissertation has involved both names and music in those same praise-singing performance contexts. As it so happens, there are clear connections (in my mind) between proper names and some musical patterns used in those praise-songs. The significance of both types of signs goes beyond some simplified explanations of meaning.

From a semiotic perspective, names are simply fascinating. As verbal signs, they are deeply significant. Not just meaningful by virtue of an arbitrary (or partially motivated) connection with an object. But significant through a more complex process of semiosis. More than other verbal signs, names can evoke a complex reality on their own. They resonate in a specific context. And they are salient across language boundaries.

In the Bamanan-speaking performance contexts I’ve observed, proper names have special significance.  For instance, those who are praised are those who have made a name for themselves. Simply calling out someone’s last name is equivalent to praising that person. Mentioning a place name in a praise-singing performance is a way to refer to events which have taken place at that location, often requiring listeners to possess some priviledged information about those events. Naming someone is a way to make that person social. Someone’s first name can have a deep impact on their character. Given the social structure, it’s often important to live up to one’s name and maintain a good name for the family as a whole.

What’s more, names (and musical patterns) are more motivated than the typical linguistic sign. As such, names can more easily participate in sound symbolism than other words. In this, names can resemble onomatopoeia and ideophones (which happen to be more frequent in African languages than in other linguistic contexts). In fact, some names share with sound symbolism the presence of non-typical morphophonological features for the language in which they are used. For instance, some English-speakers try to pronounce my first name as it is in French (/alεksãdr/), which implies a sequence of sounds which isn’t typical in English. Of course, I tend to go by “Alex” and a lot of people use the English version of my name (and spell it “Alexander”). But the point remains that even my first name can have some features reminiscent of sound symbolism, when used in a different language.

Lots more that I’ve discussed in both my master’s thesis and my Ph.D. dissertation. Going back to this fascination for names is a way for me to tie some loose ends.

Quite stimulating.

What does it all have to do with brand names? Quite a lot, actually, and it’s easy to realize. As some experts in social marketing tend to say, personal names often act like personal brands. “Branding yourself” is a market-driven approach to making a name for yourself. In Mali, people talk about the “publicity” aspect of the performance events I have been studying. In different parts of Africa (and in Brazil), people literally pay for the priviledge of being mentioned in song, because these mentions can be quite advantageous as “personal branding and marketing.”

One thing which attracts me to Lexicon specifically is the emphasis on cross-cultural communication. For very obvious reasons, Lexicon needs to make sure that the brand names it designs can have appropriate effects in a wide variety of linguistic and cultural contexts. We can all think of cases in which brand names had negative connotations in a language other than the one in which they were designed. But Lexicon’s approach seems to go much further. Beyond preventing the branding faux-pas which can have very detrimental effects on the product’s adoption, Lexicon works on the deeper integration of names in diverse cultural contexts.

Since I chersih human diversity, I’m deeply moved by examples of cultural awareness. In any context.


Québécois, officiellement

Ça y est, je suis officiellement redevenu un Québécois à part entière!
Ma carte d’assurance-maladie est arrivée, trois mois après mon retour au bercail.
Ça fait une énorme différence, pour moi. Non seulement par rapport aux soins auxquels j’ai droit, mais aussi pour des questions identitaires. Je n’ai perdu mon droit à l’assurance maladie que pendant quelques mois, mais j’étais devenu étranger dans mon lieu de naissance. J’ai conservé mes deux passeports (canadien et suisse), mais mon statut de citoyen québécois était en suspens. J’aurais eu le droit de voter ou, bien sûr, de travailler au Québec. Mais je ne faisais plus partie de la collectivité québécoise. La distinction peut sembler difficile à faire, mais elle permet de complexifier les concepts de pays, nations, états qui ont été construits depuis Rousseau.
En d’autres termes, je pense à la citoyenneté hors du nationalisme.


Crazy App Idea: Happy Meter

I keep getting ideas for apps I’d like to see on Apple’s App Store for iPod touch and iPhone. This one may sound a bit weird but I think it could be fun. An app where you can record your mood and optionally broadcast it to friends. It could become rather sophisticated, actually. And I think it can have interesting consequences.

The idea mostly comes from Philippe Lemay, a psychologist friend of mine and fellow PDA fan. Haven’t talked to him in a while but I was just thinking about something he did, a number of years ago (in the mid-1990s). As part of an academic project, Philippe helped develop a PDA-based research program whereby subjects would record different things about their state of mind at intervals during the day. Apart from the neatness of the data gathering technique, this whole concept stayed with me. As a non-psychologist, I personally get the strong impression that recording your moods frequently during the day can actually be a very useful thing to do in terms of mental health.

And I really like the PDA angle. Since I think of the App Store as transforming Apple’s touch devices into full-fledged PDAs, the connection is rather strong between Philippe’s work at that time and the current state of App Store development.

Since that project of Philippe’s, a number of things have been going on which might help refine the “happy meter” concept.

One is that “lifecasting” became rather big, especially among certain groups of Netizens (typically younger people, but also many members of geek culture). Though the lifecasting concept applies mostly to video streams, there are connections with many other trends in online culture. The connection with vidcasting specifically (and podcasting generally) is rather obvious. But there are other connections. For instance, with mo-, photo-, or microblogging. Or even with all the “mood” apps on Facebook.

Speaking of Facebook as a platform, I think it meshes especially well with touch devices.

So, “happy meter” could be part of a broader app which does other things: updating Facebook status, posting tweets, broadcasting location, sending personal blogposts, listing scores in a Brain Age type game, etc.

Yet I think the “happy meter” could be useful on its own, as a way to track your own mood. “Turns out, my mood was improving pretty quickly on that day.” “Sounds like I didn’t let things affect me too much despite all sorts of things I was going through.”

As a mood-tracker, the “happy meter” should be extremely efficient. Because it’s easy, I’m thinking of sliders. One main slider for general mood and different sliders for different moods and emotions. It would also be possible to extend the “entry form” on occasion, when the user wants to record more data about their mental state.

Of course, everything would be save automatically and “sent to the cloud” on occasion. There could be a way to selectively broadcast some slider values. The app could conceivably send reminders to the user to update their mood at regular intervals. It could even serve as a “break reminder” feature. Though there are limitations on OSX iPhone in terms of interapplication communication, it’d be even neater if the app were able to record other things happening on the touch device at the same time, such as music which is playing or some apps which have been used.

Now, very obviously, there are lots of privacy issues involved. But what social networking services have taught us is that users can have pretty sophisticated notions of privacy management, if they’re given the chance. For instance, adept Facebook users may seem to indiscrimately post just about everything about themselves but are often very clear about what they want to “let out,” in context. So, clearly, every type of broadcasting should be controlled by the user. No opt-out here.

I know this all sounds crazy. And it all might be a very bad idea. But the thing about letting my mind wander is that it helps me remain happy.


Ze-Style Identity Management

Neat experiment!

Ze Frank, probably the Internet personality with the happiest following, took over the Facebook profiles of two of his fans for one week each.

Here’s a post from one of those zefans who have been impersonated by Ze:

and x… gets the square – Ze Frank Wuzz Inside My Internetzz…!

I think what I like so much about these projects is that they’re both quite deep yet very playful. Fun without lack of seriousness. Honest, transparent, open.


Mental Imaging

To be honest, I found the following TEDtalk disturbing.

Rick Smolan tells the story of a girl | Video on TED.com

In that video from one of those selective conferences held through Technology, Entertainment, Design, Smolan describes his role in the adoption, by some of his American friends, of a then pre-teen “Amerasian” girl (a Korean girl fathered by an American soldier during the Korean war). The now grown-up woman’s American name is Natasha (despite the talk’s title, she’s not merely “a girl”). Natasha does get a “cameo” of sorts at the end of the talk. But the story is told by Smolan, from Smolan’s perspective. During her brief appearance on stage, Natasha tells Smolan that she’ll tell him later about points he has gotten wrong. But, on that occasion, Natasha graciously smiled for the camera and didn’t participate in the conversation. She’s the topic, not the narrator.
Unfortunately, I can’t find this woman’s birth name so I don’t know how to spell it. It would be awkward for me to call her “Natasha” when referring to her before her adoption. Most of the presentation revolves around this person’s life before being adopted. The rest of the story is the “Happy ending” section of the Hollywood movie she apparently wasn’t directing.

I know, I know… It’s a “charming” story. No, I don’t want to be a killjoy. Sure, everyone involved had purely altruistic intentions (even the uncle who had recuperated his niece). Yes, I’m quite happy for this woman, that she is apparently living a “good” life (though I can’t measure people’s happiness by watching a presentation about them). But, as saltydog said in another context, the story is “somewhat self-serving and lacking in depth.”

Now, to be honest, I’m not that sensitive to nice pictures (I’m more aurally oriented). My attitude toward journalism can’t be called “sympathetic.” The tendency to “pull at heartstrings” in some Anglo-American mainstream media, I find manipulative. Even adoption, I can be ambivalent toward, partly because of horror stories. So maybe I’m both missing something important and putting too much into this. But the point is, my reaction to this presentation isn’t very positive.

Because the story is so “charming,” I might need to justify myself. Even if I don’t need to, I’ll do so. Because this is my main blog and it serves me that kind of purpose, on occasion.

In that video of a “Korean Amerasian adoption story,” we have a self-conscious photojournalist from the United States who basically admits both to having been on a sort of mission (like all journalists, he mused) and to not having known what he was doing at the time. Smolan seemed so honest about how clueless he has been that I sincerely expected another direction for the plotline. I kept waiting for the twist. Especially at TED, which keeps priding itself on “inspired talks by the world’s greatest thinkers and doers.”

During his TEDtalk, Smolan kept referring to mental images he was having. Through his actions, Smolan was explicitly trying to make reality itself fit those images. Because these mental images came from an admittedly clueless perspective, the overall process doesn’t sound like an extremely charming story.

Sorry!

Smolan also mentions movie-type heroism on several occasions and it sounds like he was trying to write life as a movie script. Using the “American” looks of a young Korean girl as a major part of the plotline. With not-so-subtle allusions to racial categories.

Weird.

Like saltydog, I much preferred the orphanage anecdote to the “beauty queen” and “cheerleader” photographs. Part of the reason is that the anecdote is more dynamic and more human than the pictures. This anecdote can also be a basis for empowerment, on the part of the girl who became Natasha, as opposed to the pictures which simply show conformity to local ideals.

One interesting thing about that specific anecdote (that this girl was organizing the orphanage on her own, after just a few days there) is the fact that it contradicts the “saved girl” story. On the basis of this anecdote, it would be presumptuous to say that this woman would be leading a disastrous life had she stayed in Korea instead of being “saved” by those well-meaning people in the United States. One could even hypothesize, given the limited data supplied by Smolan, that this relatively young girl could have since become a socially engaged Korean woman, helping people in her home community. With the current state of South Korean society, we might even assume that this woman would be living a comfortable life. And since her story isn’t over, one wishes that the next chapters will be as nice as the first ones.

Though, as we’re told, “Amerasians” were probably teased in that specific environment at that specific time, Smolan doesn’t make a good case for this particular girl being misadapted to the context in which she grew up. Simply put, apart from her grandmother’s wish, what solid proof do we have that “this girl” absolutely needed to be saved?

Smolan’s perception, based purely on superficial observation, that this girl was subservient to her uncle sounds like blatant ethnocentrism. Smolan does have the honesty to convey a few of the uncle’s comments about this. But the conclusion still is that intervening in a family’s business is the normal thing to do, for an American photojournalist receiving a request from a Korean woman he saw for a few days.

Smolan’s inviting young “Amerasian” adults to prove to the girl’s uncle that she would have a terrible life based on their own experiences sounds very manipulative, misinformed, and misleading. Because Smolan sounds too much like a nice guy, I have a hard time calling him arrogant. But his actions do sound like they were animated by arrogance.

Smolan repeatedly said how misled he was so I eventually thought that he was leading the (elite) TED audience into a story about his own “learning to be humble and to not judge from appearances.”

Not at all what happened.

What happened was more of a book or film pitch. Smolan may be a great guy. He also seems to be involved in a social marketing campaign. He’s allowed to do so, of course. But it’d be disingenuous to call the effort purely “charming.”

Furthermore, there’s the matter of this focus on one individual “little girl.” Makes for a nice Disney picture and for U.S. doctrines (foreign or domestic). Pulls heartstrings. Doesn’t necessarily help in the grand scheme of things. Especially when this focus comes from a photojournalist who seeked out this one girl on the premise that her grandmother originally didn’t want her to be seen by outsiders.

As Apollyon and jackyo have been asking in an Asian-friendly forum, what about the other “Amerasian” children involved? What about the broader case of Koreans or other people born in warzones, who have been fathered by U.S. or other foreign soldiers? If the girl who became Natasha did have to be saved, what about those other children? And if, as would be my hypothesis, this one girl could have led a nice life without leaving Korea at the onset of adolescence, aren’t there other children (in Korea or elsewhere) who could have a “better life” thanks to the compassion of those people in the United States?

There’s also the whole question of racial prejudice, present in the background yet not addressed directly in this talk. This one is a complex story, which would be worth more than lipservice. Racialism takes different forms in the United States and in Korea. Natasha’s experience in those two societies could shed some light on those issues. But, in the hands of journalists, individual stories often become more allegorical than insight-generating. Personalizing those issues isn’t a technique to engage in discussion. It’s a way to shut down communication.

Back in 1993, while emphasizing technological issues and the book contract that Smolan eventually signed, the New York Times mentioned Natasha’s Story as that of “an orphaned Amerasian girl” (regardless of whether or not her mother was still living at the time). Natasha herself isn’t named or given flesh, in that short piece about Smolan. She’s mentioned as the topic of a book and/or movie. A plot device more than a breathing character.

I sincerely hope that Natasha still knows how to empower herself. I sincerely don’t think she needs Smolan or anybody else to narrate her life.


Patent Filing the Future of Instructional Podcasts

Glad to see Apple thinking about some new ways to produce and distribute podcasts.

AppleInsider | Apple filing takes Podcasts to the next level

It’s quite possible that this patent filing may not lead to anything concrete but the very fact that Apple devotes some time to the issue could lead to interesting things. In fact, other manufacturers may be motivated to move in this space and this might have powerful effects on educational technology.


Planting Landmines

The ever-thoughtful Carl Dyke graciously provided me with this expression as a way to talk about edubloggers might call “lifelong learning.” Part of teaching is about exposing students to some notions which may have radical effects later on in their lives. This is especially true for us in social sciences as some of the things we discuss not only go against the grain of some well-ingrained notions but also connect with very intimate ideas people may hold.

I think the example we were using was the construction of ideas about Nation-States/Countries, Citizenship, and Democracy. Lots of people (and, clearly, most of our students) assume that the ideas we have about States and governance are continuous and even equivalent with those held by any group at any point of history. Simply put, national identity is taken as a “natural” idea. Which makes it hard for some people to discuss such issues in a historical perspective. This is one reason I enjoyed Appiah’s “Golden Nugget” idea so much (not to mention that his talk was quite entertaining). It’s a way to put the very notion of “Civilization” in perspective (without using an evolutionary model). Carl also provided me with references to Eugen Weber and to the Taviani Brothers’ Padre Padrone. We could even use scene 3 of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (video). All of these things are, in my mind, landmines. Actually, “mind landmines” or, erm, “landminds.” (Should I get a trademark?)

Of course, literature on nationalism (Benedict Anderson, Terence Ranger, Eric Hobsbawm, etc.) can also be used. Personally, I tend to like work on similar subjects by ethnographers like Regina Bendix and Kelly Askew.

Those “landminds” are only triggered when people start really looking into issues lying underneath society and politics. But when they explode, these landminds can be quite transformative. As per the deadly effects of the explosives from which they’re inspired, these landminds destroy some apparently strong intellectual models.

So, although I see landmines as a major problem, I do see part of my work as “planting landminds.”

Much less positive than the usual “planting the seeds of knowledge” metaphors, but also much more powerful.


Yet Another App Store Post

More notes on the App Store.

Diverse Issues

  • Several apps based on Web services with user account required.
  • Facilitate account creation? (OpenID-like, or “business card”)
  • Some apps send user to webpage for account creation.
  • Captcha during account creation, sometimes with Flash-based audio option.
  • Location-based (geo- features): keep having to allow, no setting on imprecision.
  • Audio-in required in Shazam
  • Not spelled out that Pandora Radio doesn’t work outside United States
  • Sync Facebook events?
  • App installation stops audio?
  • AOL Radio glitching at normal volume?
  • Molecules a bit kludgy

FAIL!

  • No demos????
  • Bunch of “standalone web apps” (not that innovative).
  • Crashes occasionally
  • No Montreal in UrbanSpoon? (Because of fear of language, it seems)
  • No Canada in ZipCodes
  • “Waadt” for “Vaud” in ZIPCodes
  • SMS required in Loopt
  • Accents on Facebook

Missing

  • Podcatching
  • Text entry
  • Offline-storage
  • Contacts and calendar integration (e.g. Facebook)
  • Wireless sync
  • Presentation remote
  • Brewing software
  • Obvious features and support (copy-paste, Flash, Background)

Paid Apps I’d Really Like to Try

Requirements Leaving ‘Touch in the Cold

  • Audio input
  • Location
  • Photos
  • SMS
  • Phone-based

My Subjective Assessment of Some Free Apps

Neat

Decent

Half-Baked/Semi-Fail

Undecided

FAIL!


Tasting Notes: Cuvée Sumatra as Brikka

Some quick tasting notes taken on my iPod touch while drinking a cup of Brikka coffee made with triple-picked Sumatra Mandheling beans from Cuvée Coffee Roasters.

These notes aren’t meant as descriptions of the exact aromas and flavours I got from that cup. They’re more “analogical,” “impressionistic,” “inspired.” Kind of an “artist’s interpretation” of the cup instead of a careful organoleptic assessment. I personally don’t even trust my palate as much as some other people do. But my palate (and nose, especially) can make me have some of those pleasant experiences I so crave as an ethical hedonist.

The beans were already quite old. I did a few other Brikka pots with them in the past few days and some cup were very tasty. But this cup was the most interesting one so far. I think I was able to dial in the right grind for those beans at this point. Because of the way I “season” my Brikka, I think the quality of this cup can have a positive influence on my next cup.

Here goes…

  • Espresso-like
  • Cherry
  • Mole/cocoa
  • Complexity
  • Persistent
  • Less in flavours
  • Roasted hazelnut
  • Body
  • Refreshing chicoree finish
  • Bit meaty, broiled steak
  • Hershey chocolate syrup
  • Waffles
  • Spices (not quite cinnamon)
  • Faint grassy, herbal
  • Bit rugged (taste sensation)
  • Some watery corners despite body
  • Fleeting jasmine flower
  • Thin layer of char
  • Diner pepper shaker

Apple’s App Store for OSX iPhone Devices

Though it hasn’t been announced on its website, Apple’s App Store for OSX iPhone applications is now online. In fact, enterprising iPhone users can allegedly upgrade their phone’s firmware to 2.0 in order to take advantage of this online software shop. As an iPod touch user, I have no such luxury. As of this moment, the firmware upgrade for iPod touch hasn’t been released. Since that upgrade will be free for iPhone and paid for iPod touch, the discrepancy isn’t surprising.

With those third-party applications, my ‘touch will become more of a PDA and the iPhone will become more of a smartphone.

Still, I was able to access the App Store using iTunes 7.7 (which I downloaded directly from Apple’s iTunes website since it wasn’t showing up in Apple Software Update). Adding the “Applications” item in the left-hand sidebar (available through the “General” tab in iTunes Preferences), I can see a list of applications already downloaded in iTunes (i.e., nothing at first launch). At the bottom of that page, there’s a link to get more applications which leads to the App Store.  There, I can browse applications, get free apps, or buy some of the paid ones (using the payment information stored in my iTunes account). Prices are the same in USD and CAD (since they are pretty much on par, it all makes sense). Searching and browsing for apps follows all the same conventions as with music, movies, podcasts, or iPod games. Application pages appear in searches for application names (say, “Trism“).

I went through a number of apps and eventually downloaded 28 free ones. I also noted a number of apps I would like to try, including Trism, Units, Things, Outliner, OmniFocus, Steps (one of the rare apps available in French), iCalorie, and one of the multiple Sudoku apps. However, I can’t put apps on a wishlist and demos aren’t available directly through iTunes (I’m assuming they’re available from the iPhone or iPod touch).

I’m actually looking forward to trying out all of these apps. I don’t tend to be an early adopter but this is one case for quick adoption, especially with free apps. I guess a small part of this is that, since Apple has sorted through these apps, I’m assuming none of them contains any malware. Not that I ever fully trust an organization or individual, but my level of trust is higher with the App Store than with, say, the usual software download site (VersionTracker.com, Tucows.com, Download.com, Handango.com). And I trust these download sites much more than the developer sites I find through Web searches.

One thing I notice very quickly is how small many of those apps were. After downloading 28 apps, my “Mobile Applications” folder is 31MB. Of course, many PDA apps were typically under 100KB, but given the size of OSX iPhone devices, I’m glad to notice that I can probably fit that I can probably fit a lot of applications in less than 1GB, leaving more room for podcasts, music, and pictures. On the other hand, filesizes are apparently not listed in the “Applications” section on iTunes (they’re specified on the individual apps’ pages).

Overall, there’s a number of obvious apps, many of which are PDA classic: to do lists, phrasebooks, clocks and timers, calculators (including tips calculators), converters, trackers, weather forecasts, and solitaire or other casual games (like sudoku). No surprise with any of these and I’ll probably use many of them. Typically, these can be difficult to select because developers have had very similar ideas but the apps have slightly different features. Typically, with those apps, free wins over extensive feature lists, even for very cheap software.

Speaking of price, I notice that AppEngines is selling 43 different Public Domain books as separate apps for 1$ each. Now, there’s nothing wrong with making money off Public Domain material (after all, there wouldn’t be a Disney Company without Public Domain works). But it seems strange to me that someone would nickel-and-dime readers by charging for access to individual Public Domain titles. Sure, a standalone app is convenient. But a good electronic book reader should probably be more general than book-specific. Not really because of size constraints and such. But because books are easily conceived as part of a library (or bookshelf), instead of being scattered on a handheld device. The BookZ Text Reader seems more relevant, in this case, and it’s compatible with the Project Gutenberg files. Charging 2$ for that text reader seems perfectly legitimate. For its part, Fictionwise has released a free eReader app for use with its proprietary format. Though it won’t transform OSX iPhone devices into a Kindle killer, this eReader app does seem to at least transfer books through WiFi. Since these books are copyrighted ones, the app can be a nice example of a convenient content marketplace.

I’m a bit surprised that the educational software section of the App Store isn’t more elaborate. It does contain 45 separate apps but several of those are language-specific versions of language tools or apps listed in other categories which happen to have some connection to learning. If it were me, I’d classify language tools in a separate category or subcategory and I might more obvious how different educational apps are classified. On the other hand, I’m quite surprised that Molecules isn’t listed in this educational section.

The reason I care so much is that I see touch devices generally as an important part of the future of education. With iPod touches being bundled with Mac sales in the current “Back-to-School” special and with the obvious interest of different people in putting touch devices in the hands of learners and teachers, I would have expected a slew of educational apps. Not to mention that educational apps have long populated lists of software offerings since the fondly remembered Hypercard days to PDAs and smartphones.

Among the interesting educational apps is Faber Acoustical‘s SignalScope. At 25$, it’s somewhat expensive for an OSX iPhone app, but it’s much less expensive than some equivalent apps on other platforms used to be. It’s also one of the more creative apps I’ve seen in the Store. Unfortunately, for apparently obvious reasons (the iPod touch has no embedded audio in), it’s only available on the iPhone.

Speaking of iPhone-only software… There’s already a way to get audio on the iPod touch using a third-party adapter. I understand that Apple isn’t supporting it officially but I wonder if the iPhone-only tag will prevent people from using it. Small point for most people, I guess. But it’d be really nice if I could use my ‘touch as a voice recorder. Would make for a great fieldwork tool.

One thing I wish were available on the App Store is an alternative mode for text entry. Though I’m already getting decent performance from the default virtual keyboard on my ‘touch, I still wish I had Dasher, MessagEase or even Graffiti.

Among the apps I’ve browsed, I see a number of things which could be described as “standalone versions of Web apps.” There’s already a good number of Web apps compatible or even customized for OSX iPhone devices. The standalone versions can be useful, in part because they can be used offline (great for WiFi-less situations, on the iPod touch). But these “standaloned Web apps” also don’t seem to really take full advantage of Apple’s Cocoa Touch. In the perception of value, I’d say that “standaloned Web apps” rate fairly low, especially since most Web apps are free to use (unless tied with an account on a Web service).

I was also surprised to see that a number of apps which are basically simple jokes are put for sale on the App Store. I was amused to see an OSX iPhone version of Freeverse’s classic “Jared, The Butcher of Songs.” But I’m puzzled by the fact that Hottrix is selling its iBeer app for 3$. Sure, it’s just 3$. But I don’t see the app providing with as much pleasure as a single taster of a craft beer. Not to mention that the beer itself looks (by colour, foam, and carbonation) like a bland pilsner and not like a flavourful beer.

Overall, I’d say the Store is well-made. Again, the same principles are used as for the iTunes Store generally. All application pages have screenshots and some of these screenshots give an excellent idea of what the application does, while other screenshots are surprisingly difficult to understand. Browsing the Store, I noticed how important icons seemed to be in terms of catching my attention. Some application developers did a great job at the textual description of their applications, also catching my attention. But others use “marketingspeak” to brag about their product, which has the effect of making the app more difficult to grasp. Given the number of apps already listed and the simplicity of the classification, such details become quite important. Almost (but not nearly as much) as price, in terms of making an app appealing.

It seems pretty clear to me (and to others, including some free market advocates), that price is an important issue. This was obvious to many of us for a while. But the opening of the App Store makes this issue very obvious.

For instance, regardless of his previous work, CNET journalist Don Reisinger is probably on to something when he argues, in essence, that the free apps may outweigh the benefits of the paid apps, on Apple’s App Store. Even though Apple allegedly coaxed developers into charging for their apps, the fact of the matter is that the App Store clearly shows that no-cost software can be a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The same advantage is obvious in many contexts, including in music. But, as a closed environment, the App Store could serve as an efficient case study in “competing with free.” One thing to keep in mind, as I keep saying, is that there are multiple types of no-cost offerings. In the software world (including on the App Store), there’s a large number of examples of successful applications which incurred no purchase on the users’ part. Yes, sometimes you need a bit of imagination to build a business model on top of no-cost software. But I think the commercial ventures enabled by these “alternative” business models are more diverse than people seem to assume.

One thing I noticed in terms of application pricing on the App Store is that there either seems to be a number of sweet spots or pricing schemes come from a force of habit. Sure, Apple only has a finite list of “tiers” for amounts which can be charged for a given app (with preset currency conversions). But I think that some tiers have been used more than others. For instance, 10$ seems fairly common as a threshold between truly inexpensive apps and a category similar to “shareware.” Some apps are actually as expensive as the desktop versions, though it seems that the most expensive app so far is under 100$.

One thing to note is that several developers of those early App Store products have been involved in Mac development for a while (the Omni Group being an obvious example) but there are also several organizations which seem to be entering Cocoa development for the first time. This could be a bigger halo effect in terms of Mac sales than the original iPod or the iPhone. Profit made through OSX iPhone apps (either through software cost, through services, or even through other monetization schemes) could lead them to develop software for OSX Leopard. At least, they already made an investment in the development platform.

It’ll be interesting to observe what happens with software pricing in relation to the “apparent hand” of a constrained market.

But I’m less interested in this market than in the actual apps. When can I install the “iPhone 2.0” firmware on my iPod touch? Is it now?


Selling Myself Long

Been attending sessions by Meri Aaron Walker about online methods to get paid for our expertise. Meri coaches teachers about those issues.

MAWSTOOLBOX.COM

There’s also a LearnHub “course”: Jumpstart Your Online Teaching Career.

Some notes, on my own thinking about monetization of expertise. Still draft-like, but RERO is my battle cry.

Some obstacles to my selling expertise:

  • My “oral personality.”
  • The position on open/free knowledge in academia and elsewhere.
  • My emphasis on friendship and personal rapport.
  • My abilities as an employee instead of a “boss.”
  • Difficulty in assessing the value of my expertise.
  • The fact that other people have the same expertise that I think I have.
  • High stakes (though this can be decreased, in some contexts).
  • My distaste for competition/competitiveness.
  • Difficulty at selling and advertising myself (despite my social capital).
  • Being a creative generalist instead of a specialist.

Despite all these obstacles, I have been thinking about selling my services online.

One reason is that I really do enjoy teaching. As I keep saying, teaching is my hobby (when I get paid, it’s to learn how to interact with other learners and to set up learning contexts).

In fact, I enjoy almost everything in teaching (the major exception being grading/evaluating). From holding office hours and lecturing to facilitating discussions and answering questions through email. Teaching, for me, is deeply satisfying and I think that learning situations which imply the role of a teacher still make a lot of sense. I also like more informal learning situations and I even try to make my courses more similar to informal teaching. But I still find specific value in a “teaching and learning” system.

Some people seem to assume that teaching a course is the same thing as “selling expertise.” My perspective on learning revolves to a large extent on the difference between teaching and “selling expertise.” One part is that I find a difference between selling a product or process and getting paid in a broader transaction which does involve exchange about knowledge but which isn’t restricted to that exchange. Another part is that I don’t see teachers as specialists imparting their wisdom to eager masses. I see knowledge as being constructed in diverse situations, including formal and informal learning. Expertise is often an obstacle in the kind of teaching I’m interested in!

Funnily enough, I don’t tend to think of expertise as something that is easily measurable or transmissible. Those who study expertise have ways to assess something which is related to “being an expert,” especially in the case of observable skills (many of those are about “playing,” actually: chess, baseball, piano…). My personal perspective on expertise tends to be broader, more fluid. Similar to experience, but with more of a conscious approach to learning.

There also seems to be a major difference between “breadth of expertise” and “topics you can teach.” You don’t necessarily need to be very efficient at some task to help someone learn to do it. In fact, in some cases, being proficient in a domain is an obstacle to teaching in that domain, since expertise is so ingrained as to be very difficult to retrieve consciously.

This is close to “do what I say, not what I do.” I even think that it can be quite effective to actually instruct people without direct experience of these instructions. Similar to consulting, actually. Some people easily disagree with this point and some people tease teachers about “doing vs. teaching.” But we teachers do have a number of ways to respond, some of them snarkier than others. And though I disagree with several parts of his attitude, I quite like this short monologue by Taylor Mali about What Teachers Make.

Another reason I might “sell my expertise” is that I genuinely enjoy sharing my expertise. I usually provide it for free, but I can possibly relate to the value argument. I don’t feel so tied to social systems based on market economy (socialist, capitalist, communist…) but I have to make do.

Another link to “selling expertise” is more disciplinary. As an ethnographer, I enjoy being a “cultural translator.” of sorts. And, in some cases, my expertise in some domains is more of a translation from specialized speech into laypeople’s terms. I’m actually not very efficient at translating utterances from one language to another. But my habit of navigating between different “worlds” makes it possible for me to bridge gaps, cross bridges, serve as mediator, explain something fairly “esoteric” to an outsider. Close to popularization.

So, I’ve been thinking about what can be paid in such contexts which give prominence to expertise. Tutoring, homework help, consulting, coaching, advice, recommendation, writing, communicating, producing content…

And, finally, I’ve been thinking about my domains of expertise. As a “Jack of All Trades,” I can list a lot of those. My level of expertise varies greatly between them and I’m clearly a “Master of None.” In fact, some of them are merely from personal experience or even anecdotal evidence. Some are skills I’ve been told I have. But I’d still feel comfortable helping others with all of them.

I’m funny that way.

Domains of  Expertise

French

  • Conversation
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Culture
  • Literature
  • Regional diversity
  • Chanson appreciation

Bamanan (Bambara)

  • Greetings
  • Conversation

Social sciences

  • Ethnographic disciplines
  • Ethnographic field research
  • Cultural anthropology
  • Linguistic anthropology
  • Symbolic anthropology
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Folkloristics

Semiotics

Language studies

  • Language description
  • Social dimensions of language
  • Language change
  • Field methods

Education

  • Critical thinking
  • Lifelong learning
  • Higher education
  • Graduate school
  • Graduate advising
  • Academia
  • Humanities
  • Social sciences
  • Engaging students
  • Getting students to talk
  • Online teaching
  • Online tools for teaching

Course Management Systems (Learning Management Systems)

  • Oncourse
  • Sakai
  • WebCT
  • Blackboard
  • Moodle

Social networks

  • Network ethnography
  • Network analysis
  • Influence management

Web platforms

  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • Ning
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Jaiku
  • YouTube
  • Flickr

Music

  • Cultural dimensions of music
  • Social dimensions of music
  • Musicking
  • Musical diversity
  • Musical exploration
  • Classical saxophone
  • Basic music theory
  • Musical acoustics
  • Globalisation
  • Business models for music
  • Sound analysis
  • Sound recording

Beer

  • Homebrewing
  • Brewing techniques
  • Recipe formulation
  • Finding ingredients
  • Appreciation
  • Craft beer culture
  • Brewing trends
  • Beer styles
  • Brewing software

Coffee

  • Homeroasting
  • Moka pot brewing
  • Espresso appreciation
  • Coffee fundamentals
  • Global coffee trade

Social media

Blogging

  • Diverse uses of blogging
  • Writing tricks
  • Workflow
  • Blogging platforms

Podcasts

  • Advantages of podcasts
  • Podcasts in teaching
  • Filming
  • Finding podcasts
  • Embedding content

Technology

  • Trends
  • Geek culture
  • Equipment
  • Beta testing
  • Troubleshooting Mac OS X

Online Life

Communities

  • Mailing-lists
  • Generating discussions
  • Entering communities
  • Building a sense of community
  • Diverse types of communities
  • Community dynamics
  • Online communities

Food

  • Enjoying food
  • Cooking
  • Baking
  • Vinaigrette
  • Pizza dough
  • Bread

Places

  • Montreal, Qc
  • Lausanne, VD
  • Bamako, ML
  • Bloomington, IN
  • Moncton, NB
  • Austin, TX
  • South Bend, IN
  • Fredericton, NB
  • Northampton, MA

Pedestrianism

  • Carfree living
  • Public transportation
  • Pedestrian-friendly places

Tools I Use

  • PDAs
  • iPod
  • iTunes
  • WordPress.com
  • Skype
  • Del.icio.us
  • Diigo
  • Blogger (Blogspot)
  • Mac OS X
  • Firefox
  • Flock
  • Internet Explorer
  • Safari
  • Gmail
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Maps
  • Zotero
  • Endnote
  • RefWorks
  • Zoho Show
  • Wikipedia
  • iPod touch
  • SMS
  • Outlining
  • PowerPoint
  • Slideshare
  • Praat
  • Audacity
  • Nero Express
  • Productivity software

Effective Web searches

Socialization

  • Social capital
  • Entering the field
  • Creating rapport
  • Event participation
  • Event hosting

Computer Use

  • Note-taking
  • Working with RSS feeds
  • Basic programing concepts
  • Data manipulations

Research Methods

  • Open-ended interviewing
  • Qualitative data analysis

Personal

  • Hedonism
  • Public speaking
  • GERD
  • Strabismus
  • Moving
  • Cultural awareness

Thirty-Six Years Ago

Total eclipse of the Sun.

List of solar eclipses – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

It was also a very impressive thunderstorm. Some belief systems associate special powers to people born under such circumstances. Such a dramatic birth is an omen, some people say.

Haven’t received Britannica’s On This Day for July 10, yet. But the Wikipedia version has some neat tidbits. Including the births of Marcel Proust, Jessica Simpson, Nikola Tesla, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Carl Orff, Adolphus Busch, Béla Fleck, Jean Chauvin, and Jacky Cheung.

My guess is that Britannica will mention the Bahamas independence, the Louis XVI war declaration, the establishment of Vichy government, the birth of Calvin, and the Noriega sentencing.

As a Canadian, there’s a number of pieces of Canadiana associated with July 10 (as with any day).


Cuvée Coffee

[Old Draft]

Turns out, this blend is much more flexible and much less finicky than I first thought.
Just tried (June 22) a few shots on a LaPa EDL12 with pressurized portafilter. Though all my shots on this machine are severely underextracted, I get some nice high notes in the middle of the taste and a dull but clean finish. In fact, it seems to work as a canvas since adding a drop of milk in it actually featured the milk. Also, I recently did some burnt caramel and I can pick up a caramel taste in the cup.
I’m also getting a lingering acidity, even though there’s little acidity up front.

Update: Tried the Meritage on several occasions. For a number of reasons (having nothing to do with Cuvée itself), I only got the package after the coffee had already lost much of its flavours and aromas.

Even after several weeks, it can still “work” in a moka pot, especially when blended with other beans.

Thanks a lot to Cuvée for all the coffee! I’m really glad I could try it on my own. It’s just really sad that I wasn’t able to taste it at its peak. In fact, as soon as I got the package, I tried to find a way to use it with a quality espresso machine at a friend’s place but wasn’t able to do it. The LaPa was decent but, with a pressurized portafilter, there’s really not that much you can do.


One Hundred and Twenty-Four Years Ago

On this day, 124 years ago, France presented a colossal statue to the United States, commemorating the friendship between the two countries.

Statue of Liberty — Britannica Online Encyclopedia

Actually, July 4 has been a busy day. It’s the day Thoreau moved to Walden Point. The day Hawthorne was born. The day Vivekananda, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson died. The day Alice in Wonderland was first published. The day the Crab Nebula was noticed by the Chinese.

And the day the Republic of the Philippines was proclaimed and independent country.

Really. A busy day.


Grisaille: littérature et éminence grises

La première fois que j’ai entendu le terme «littérature grise» (présentation de Daniel Gill au CÉFES de l’Université de Montréal), j’ai tout de suite été tenté d’étendre le terme au-delà de son usage original. Rien de très anormal, surtout en français.

En fait, je peux l’avouer, j’avais apparemment mal compris l’usage en question. Pas réellement honteux, surtout en français. Mais ça demande quand même un mea culpa. Je croyais qu’on parlait de ces textes qui, sans être académiques, pouvait quand même faire l’objet d’une lecture académique. Je pensais qu’il s’agissait d’un terme lié au sens critique, à la critique des sources.

Or, il appert que le concept de littérature grise ait une acception beaucoup plus étroite. Si je comprends mieux ce terme, grâce à Wikipedia, il semble surtout concentré autour du mode de publication. Un texte qui n’est pas publié formellement, par une maison d’édition, fait partie de la littérature grise. Tout texte à usage restreint, y compris les rapports internes, etc. Ce serait même la communauté de collecte de renseignements qui aurait inventé ce terme (en anglais). Il y a probablement une notion de confiance à la base de ce concept. Mais ce que je croyais y percevoir, côté sens critique ne semble pas être à la base de l’appellation littérature grise.

Où vais-je, avec ces élucubrations sur l’usage d’un terme apparemment aussi simple? Vers le rapport entre la tour d’ivoire et le monde réel.

Si si!

C’est que je pense à la «vulgarisation». À la «littérature populaire» en lien avec le milieu universitaire. Aux livres écrits pour un public large, mais avec une certaine dimension académique.

Souvent, la vulgarisation est décrite comme une version «populaire» d’une discipline existante («psychologie populaire» ou “pop psychology”). En anglais, “popularizer” correspond au rôle du vulgarisateur, bien que les connotations soient légèrement différentes.

C’est un peu comme ça que je définissais la «littérature grise». Un espace d’écriture qui n’est ni la publication académique arbitrée, ni la source primaire. Y compris une grande partie du journalisme (sans égard au prestige de la publication) et la plupart des livres à gros tirage. Ces textes qui doivent d’autant plus être «pris avec un grain de sel» que leurs buts ne sont pas toujours si directement liés à la simple dissémination d’idées ou à l’augmentation des connaissances.

Il y a de nombreux vulgarisateurs, de par ce vaste monde. Surtout parmi les Anglophones, d’ailleurs. Ils écrivent des tas de livres (et pas mal d’articles, dans certains cas). Certains de leurs livres sont des succès de librairie. Les vulgarisateurs deviennent alors des personnalités connues, on les invite à des émissions de télé, on demande leur avis à l’occasion, on leur donne certaines responsabilités. «On» désigne ici l’establishment médiatique et une des sources de la «culture populaire». Dans plusieurs milieux généralement anti-intellectuels, ce «on» est relativement restreint. Mais l’effet commercial demeure grand.

Même dans une région où le travail intellectuel est peu respecté, le genre d’activité médiatique que les vulgarisateurs peuvent entreprendre donne lieu à toute une entreprise, semble-t-il assez profitable.

Un truc à noter, avec le rôle de vulgarisateur, c’est qu’il s’agit davantage de servir de canal plutôt que de contribuer de façon significative à la connaissance académique. Bien sûr, les contributions de plusieurs vulgarisateurs sont loin d’être négligeables. Mais le rôle d’un vulgarisateur va alors au-delà du travail de vulgarisation.

Ce qui est assez facile à observer, c’est que les contributions des vulgarisateurs sont souvent surévaluées par leurs publics. Rien de très surprenant. On croit aisément que c’est le communicateur qui est la source ultime du message communiqué, surtout si ce message est vraiment nouveau pour nous. Et la zone médiatique qu’occupent si facilement les vulgarisateurs est obnubilée par la notion de la découverte individuelle, par le «génie» du chercheur, par le prestige de la recherche. Le vulgarisateur individuel représente la communauté académique dans son ensemble qui, elle, est souvent conçue comme ne devant pas donner trop d’importance à la personalité du chercheur.

Dans le milieu académique, les attitudes face aux vulgarisateurs sont assez variées. Il y a parfois un certain respect, parfois une certaine jalousie. Mais il y a aussi beaucoup de crainte que le travail académique soit galvaudé par la vulgarisation.

Il y a un ensemble de réactions qui viennent du fait que la vulgarisation du travail académique est souvent au cœur de ce que les enseignants universitaires doivent contrecarrer chez plusieurs étudiants. La tâche de remettre en cause ce que des vulgarisateurs ont dit peut donner lieu à des situations difficiles. Plusieurs sujets sont «sensibles» (“touhcy subjects”).

D’ailleurs, la sensibilité d’un sujet dépend souvent de la spécialisation disciplinaire. Une ingénieure peut avoir des réactions très fortes à propos d’un sujet qui lui tient à cœur, par exemple au sujet d’un langage de programmation. Au cours d’une discussion autour de ce type de sujet, cette ingénieure peut se plaindre de la vulgarisation, exiger de la rigueur, condescendre au sujet des connaissances des gens. Mais cette même ingénieure peut ne voir aucun problème à discuter de questions sociales d’une façon par trop simpliste et se surprendre des réactions des gens. La même situation se produit à l’inverse, bien sûr. Mais je me concerne plus d’être humain que de «génie»! 😉

Il y a un peu de mépris, dans tout ça. La discipline des autres semble toujours plus simple que la sienne et on s’y croit toujours meilleur qu’on ne l’est vraiment.

C’est un peu comme si un professeur d’histoire de l’art publiait un livre sur la biologie moléculaire (sans avoir de formation dans un domaine biologique quelconque) ou si le détenteur d’un prix Nobel de physique publiait des propos sur l’histoire de la littérature (sans avoir pris connaissance du domaine).

Puisque je suis surtout anthropologue, je peux utiliser l’exemple de l’anthropologie.

Comme beaucoup d’autres disciplines, l’anthropologie est très mal représentée dans le public en général ou même dans le milieu académique. D’ailleurs, nous avons parfois l’impression que notre discipline est moins bien représentée que celle des autres. Il y a probablement un biais normal là-dessous. Mais je crois qu’il y a quelque-chose que les gens qui n’ont jamais travaillé en tant qu’anthropologue ne saisissent pas très bien.

Nombreux sont les collègues qui se méprennent au sujet de notre discipline. Les commentaires au sujet de l’anthropologie prononcés par des chercheurs provenant d’autres disciplines sont aussi exacts que si on définissait la biologie comme la critique des relations de pouvoir et la sociologie comme l’étude des courants marins. Qui plus est, plusieurs de nos collègues nous traitent de façon condescendante même lorsque leurs propres disciplines ont largement bénéficié de recherches anthropologiques.

Le problème est moins aigu en anthropologie physique et en archéologie que parmi les «disciplines ethnographiques» (comme l’ethnolinguistique, l’ethnohistoire et l’ethnologie). L’anthropologie judiciaire, l’archéologie préhistorique, la paléontologie humaine et la primatologie sont généralement considérée comme assez “sexy” et, même si le travail effectué par les chercheurs dans ces domaines est très différent de l’idéal présenté au public, il y a un certain lien entre le personnage imaginé par le public et la personne affublée de ce personnage. Oh, bien sûr, on a toujours des étudiants qui intègrent l’anthropologie pour devenir Jane Goodall, Kathy Reichs ou Indiana Jones. Mais c’est plus facile de ramener les gens sur terre en leur montrant le vrai travail du chercheur (surtout si ces gens sont déjà passionés par le sujet) que de franchir le fossé qu’il y a entre l’idée (souvent exotique et/ou ésotérique) que les gens se font de l’ethnographe.

En anthropologie, un des vulgarisateurs qui nous donne du fil à retordre, c’est Jared Diamond. Probablement pas un mauvais bougre. Mais c’est un de ceux qui nous forcent à travailler à rebours. Certains le croient anthropologue (alors que c’est un physiologiste et biologiste travaillant en géographie). Certaines personnes découvrent, grâce à Diamond, certains aspects liés à l’anthropologie. Mais le travail de Diamond sur des questions anthropologiques semble peu approprié parmi la communauté des anthropologues.

En anthropologie linguistique, comme dans d’autres domaines d’étude du langage, nous sommes aux prises avec des gens comme Noam Chomsky et Steven Pinker. L’un comme l’autre peut, à juste titre, être considéré comme innovateur dans son domaine. D’ailleurs, Chomsky a été (individuellement) un personnage si important dans la l’histoire de la linguistique de la fin du siècle dernier qu’on peut parler de «dominance», voire d’hégémonie chomskyenne. Pinker est depuis longtemps une «étoile montante» de la science cognitive et plusieurs cognitivistes tiennent compte de ses recherches. Toutefois, ils occupent tous les deux unou deplace assez large dans «l’esprit du public» au sujet du langage. Pinker tient plus directement le rôle du vulgarisateur dans ses activités, mais Chomsky est tout aussi efficace en tant que «figure» de la linguistique. J’aurais aussi pu parler de Deborah Tannen ou de Robin Lakoff, qui abordent toutes deux des aspects du langage qui sont importants en anthropologie linguistique. Mais elles semblent bien moins connues que Pinker et Chomsky. Détail intéressant: sur Wikipédia en français, elles sont énumérées parmi les linguistes mais elles n’ont pas leurs propres articles. Pourtant, l’ex-époux de Robin Tolmach Lakoff, George Lakoff, fait l’objet d’un article relativement détaillé. Sur Wikipedia en anglais, Robin Lakoff a son propre article mais les liens sur “Lakoff” et même “Professor Lakoff” redirigent le lecteur vers le même George avec mention de «la sociolinguiste» pour disambiguer. C’est peut-être logique, normal ou prévisible. Mais ça reste amusant.

D’ailleurs, je me demande maintenant s’il n’y a pas un certain biais, un certain obstacle à la reconnaissance des femmes dans le domaine de la vulgarisation. Parmi les chercheures qui tiennent le rôle de vulgarisatrices, j’ai de la difficulté à penser à des femme très connues du public en général. Il y a bien eu Margaret Mead, mais son rôle était légèrement différent (entre autres à cause du développement de la discipline, à l’époque). Il y a aussi Jane Goodall et Kathy Reichs, mentionnées plus haut. Mais on semble les connaître plus par leurs vies ou leurs travaux de fiction que par leurs activités de vulgarisation académique comme tel. On se méprend moins à cause d’elles sur les buts de la recherche que l’on ne se méprend à cause de gens comme Diamond ou Pinker. Y a-t-il d’autres femmes dont les activités médiatiques et bibliographiques ont, présentement, le même type d’impact que celles de Pinker, Chomsky ou Diamond? J’espère bien mais, honnêtement, j’ai de la difficulté à en trouver. Reichs est une bonne candidate mais, à ce que je sache, elle a toujours publié des ouvrages de fiction et non le type de texte semi-académique auquel je donne (de façon inexacte) le nom de «littérature grise».

Peut-être ne suis-je que biaisé. Je vois les femmes comme mieux à même de «faire la part des choses» entre travail académique et activités médiatiques que les hommes dont je parle ici. Ou bien j’ai tout simplement de la difficulté à critiquer les femmes.

Toujours est-il que…

J’ai, personnellement, un rapport assez particulier à la vulgarisation. Je la considère importante et je respecte ceux qui la font. Mais j’ai des opinions assez mitigées par rapport aux travaux effectués par divers vulgarisateurs.

J’ai assisté à divers événements centrés sur certains d’entre eux. Entre autres, une présentation de Pinker liée au lancement d’un de ses livres. Bien que cette présentation ait été effectuée dans sa ville natale et au sein de l’université où il a débuté ses études, Pinker n’avait alors pas su adapter sa présentation à son public. Selon moi, un des critères servant à évaluer la performance d’un vulgarisateur, c’est sa capacité à travailler avec «son» public.

Douglas Hofstadter m’avait semblé intellectuellement imprudent, lors de sa participation à un colloque sur la cognition à l’Université d’Indiana (pendant ma scolarité de doctorat au sein de cette institution assoifée de prestige). Ses propos ressemblaient plus à ceux d’un auteur de science fiction qu’à ceux d’un cognitiviste. Faut dire que j’ai jamais été impressionné par ses textes.

Vendredi soir dernier, j’ai assisté à une présentation du philosophe Daniel Dennett. Cette présentation, organisée par l’Institut de sciences cognitives de l’UQÀM, faisait partie d’une conférence plus large. Mais je n’ai remarqué que la présentation de Dennett, dans le programme distribué par courriel.

C’est d’ailleurs cette présentation qui m’a motivé à écrire ce billet. Le titre de ce billet se veut être une espèce de jeu de mots un peu facile. Il y a un aspect zeugmatique, ce que j’aime bien. J’avais d’abord décidé de l’écrire en anglais et de le nommer “grey literature and grey beards”, en référence partielle à un commentaire, laissé par Valérie Bourdeau sur mon «mur» Facebook, au sujet des barbus au type académique présents lors de l’événement. Encore là, un petit coup de jeu de mots.

Faut dire que Dennett a beaucoup utilisé l’humour, lors de sa présentation. Entre autres, plusieurs commentaires ressemblaient à des «blagues d’initiés» pour ceux qui connaissent bien son œuvre. Ces blagues étaient un peu «faciles», mais elles n’étaient pas dénuée d’à propos.

Mes notes prises au cours de la présentation de Dennett à l’aide de mon iPod touch, portent plutôt sur la forme de cette présentation que sur son contenu. J’ai quand même relevé certains commentaires au sujet de Dan Sperber, dont j’ai lu certains travaux et qui me semble justement cerner certaines questions importantes à l’égard de la cognition en contexte social d’une façon plus profonde que celle de Dennett ou de son ami Dawkins. Ces commentaires de Dennett au sujet de Sperber m’ont semblé un peu «rapides», ne tenant pas vraiment en compte la teneur réelle des travaux de Sperber. Pas que je suis nécessairement un fan inconditionnel de Sperber, mais les contre-arguments semblaient un peu spécieux.

La présentation dans son ensemble était assez intéressante et, en mettant en parallèle plusieurs idées assez distinctes, peut avoir été stimulante pour plusieurs personnes. Et probablement assez efficace pour ce qui est de la vente de livres.

Pour dire la franche vérité, j’ai trouvé cette présentation plus utile que ce à quoi je m’attendais. Force m’est d’admettre que, malgré mon respect pour le travail de vulgarisation, je m’attendais à quelque-chose de très superficiel. Et même si Dennett n’a pas atteint de grandes profondeurs lors de cette présentation, il s’est montré capable de permettre aux membres de l’auditoire de conserver leurs sens critiques, ce qui est rare dans la sphère médiatique qu’occupe parfois Dennett (surtout au sujet du dogmatisme, religieux ou athée). En d’autres termes, Dennett ressemblait davantage à un bon prof qu’à un vulgarisateur typique. Puisqu’il enseigne à Tufts, établissement difficile pour l’enseignement, je trouve cette qualité encore plus remarquable.

Ce qui est aussi intéressant, c’est que Dennett a parlé lui-même de vulgarisation. Il semblait soit prendre parti pour la vulgarisation ou se défendre de simplifier à outrance les questions complexes dont il traitait. De plus, Dennet a su critiquer directement le réductionnisme, un sujet qui me tient particulièrement à cœur. Dans un certain monde «scientiste», la science est exhaustivement explicative et toute question est concevable comme une réduction à des facteurs simples. C’est, selon moi, une approche simpliste, source de méprise et de situations embarrassantes. Dennett semble avoir une perspective similaire et s’est prononcé à la fois contre le réductionnisme scientifique en général et contre le déterminisme génétique en particulier (une forme particulièrement populaire de réductionnisme, à l’heure actuelle).

Ce n’est qu’après avoir commencé la rédaction de ce billet que j’ai écouté l’entrevue (audio) accordée par Hubert Reeves à l’émission Les années lumière de Radio-Canada. Non seulement Hubert Reeves y parle-t-il de vulgarisation mais, comme Dennett, il se prononce directement contre le réductionnisme. Très agréable et utile.

Une des choses que les vulgarisateurs arrivent à faire c’est le pont entre diverses disciplines. Soit à l’intérieur d’un des grands champs du monde académique (arts, sciences humaines, sciences naturelles…) ou même entre ces grands champs d’investigation (typiquement, entre Art et Science). Il y a rarement une balance réelle. Il s’agit souvent d’un scientifique qui parle d’art ou de sciences sociales, parfois avec des résultats plutôt mitigés. Mais la tendance est déjà vers le «généralisme créatif», vers une épistémologie large qui intègre diverses approches et conserve son sens critique dans diverses situations. Il y a quelque-chose de «raffraîchissant», dans tout ça.

Ce que j’apprécie peut-être le plus des vulgarisateurs, et ce que j’entreprends à ma façon, c’est l’implication sociale. Un peu comme des Bourdieu ou Attali en France, les vulgarisateurs du monde anglophone réussissent à sortir de la tour d’ivoire et à s’intégrer à la communauté sociale.

Un truc qui m’embête un peu, dans tout ça, c’est que certaines de mes activités (entre autres, les blogues) sont assez proches de la «littérature grise» et de la vulgarisation. Ce n’est peut-être qu’un problème dans le système actuel qui domine le milieu académique. Mais je ressens parfois un certain malaise. D’autant plus que, contrairement aux grands vulgarisateurs, je ne suis pas très doué dans la vente de textes.

Mais, ça, c’est mon problème. Je n’ai peut-être que la barbe de grise, mais peut-être qu’un jour je me transformerai en éminence grise… 😀


Four-Hundred Years

So, apparently, today is Quebec City’s actual 400th birthday:

Samuel de Champlain — Britannica Online Encyclopedia

The whole year is designated as «Le 400è de Québec» so it’s interesting to have a precise date.

Obviously, we could quibble as to the significance of any given date. And there’s a lot to say about the negative impact of colonialism. So, the title refers to Bob Marley as much as to Quebec City’s celebration.


Fermetures Starbucks

Ce n’est pas vraiment un secret, de nombreux amateurs de café de qualité considèrent la chaîne Starbucks comme un problème. Même si c’est surtout des gros producteurs industriels comme Sara Lee et Nestlé que les partisans du café de qualité tentent de contrecarrer, Starbucks joue le rôle de l’ennemi du bon goût dans le mouvement vers le café de qualité.

C’est donc avec une certaine joie (Schadenfreude, dirions-nous) que l’on peut parler de la situation de Starbucks:

Starbucks va fermer 600 cafés aux états-Unis | LaPresseAffaires.com

Ma perception est peut-être erronnée mais j’ai l’impression que Starbucks n’a jamais vraiment percé au Québec et que même Second Cup n’a pas une situation si enviable sur le marché québécois.

Par contre, mon impression est assui que la scène du café à Montréal était bien plus intéressante avant que certains cafés locaux ne se soient transformés en chaînes. À Montréal, il y a aujourd’hui beaucoup de chaînes de cafés. D’après moi, la résurgence des cafés indépendants ne date que de quelques années, après une période de «franchisation». Le problème principal d’une chaîne, c’est qu’elle ne peut acheter que de grosses productions de café. Il est donc impossible d’aller chercher les cafés les plus intéressants, qui sont généralement produits en petites quantités. Évidemment, pas de possibilité d’entretenir un rapport direct entre producteur et café local.