Category Archives: humor

Values of Content

Wannabe Guru: “There’s no such thing as free content.”

Literature Major: “Content’s a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.”

Arts Major: “Content Is in the Eye of the Beholder.”

Entertainer: “There’s no content / like show content / like no content I know.”

Journalist: “Content is my job and I deserve to be paid for what I make, the exact same way that a baker is paid for selling bread. What other people called ‘content’ isn’t really content since it hasn’t been vetted by professionals like my editor. So my role is to create content so that my editor can distribute it through exclusive channels. Other people’s content becomes my content when I secure the rights to it through the use of a clearance service. Comments by people I interview only become content after they sign a release. Everything else is noise.”

Economist: “There are four ways to get paid for content: a) subscription; b) advertising; c) private or public sponsorship; d) sale on media. Since advertising and sponsorship are two aspects of the same model and since consumers epend money on either subscription or media sales, there are two basic models.”

Functionalist (Sociology): “Content serves different goals, both manifest and latent.”
Conflict-Theorist (Sociology): “Providing free content is a way for the ruling class to make the audience into a commodity.”

Interactionist (Sociology): “Content provides meaning to social selves.”

Moralist: “Content Yourself.”

Buddhist: “Content breeds contentment.”

Christian: “Content begat content.”

Geek: “Content Wants to be Free.”

Judge: “Our mission is to balance the rights of content creators with those of content consumers.”

Cop: “There are three forms of content: content that is appropriate for everyone, content which is only appropriate to certain people, and content which isn’t appropriate for anyone.”

Teenage Boy: “Where can I find naked pictures of that cute girl in my class?”

Teenage Girl: “How can I get in touch with that dreamy guy in that video?”


What Not to Tweet

Here’s a list I tweeted earlier.

Twenty Things You Should Never, Ever Tweet for Fear of Retaliation from the Tweet Police

  1. Lists. Too difficult to follow.
  2. Do’s and don’ts. Who died and made you bandleader?
  3. Personal thoughts. Nobody cares what anyone else thinks, anyway.
  4. Anything in a foreign language. It confuses everyone.
  5. Personal opinions. You may offend someone.
  6. Jokes. Same reason as #5.
  7. Links. Too dangerous, since some could be malicious.
  8. Anything in “the second degree.” The bareness of context prevents careful reading.
  9. Anything insightful. Who do you think you are?
  10. Personal replies. Can’t you get a room?
  11. -20: What @oatmeal said you shouldn’t tweet. If it’s funny, it must be true.

In case it wasn’t clear… Yes, I mean this as sarcasm. One of my pet peeves is to hear people tell others what to do or not to do, without appropriate context. It’s often perceived to be funny or useful but, to be honest, it just rubs me the wrong way. Sure, they’re allowed to do it. I won’t prevent them. I don’t even think they should stop, that’s really not for me to decide. It’s just that, being honest with myself, I realize how negative of an effect it has on me. It actually reaches waaaaay down into something I don’t care to visit very often.

The Oatmeal can be quite funny. Reading a few of these comics, recently, I literally LOLed. And this one probably pleased a lot of people, because it described some of their own pet peeves. Besides, it’s an old comic, probably coming from a time when tweets were really considered to be answers to the original Twitter prompt: “What are you doing?” (i.e., before the change to the somewhat more open “What’s happening?”). But I’ve heard enough expressions of what people should or shouldn’t do with a specific social media system that I felt the need to vent. So, that was the equivalent of a rant (and this post is closer to an actual rant).

I mean, there’s a huge difference between saying “these are the kinds of uses for which I think Twitter is the appropriate tool” and the flat-out dismissal of what others have done. While Twitter is old news, as social media go, it’s still unfolding and much of its strength comes from the fact that we don’t actually have a rigid notion of what it should be.

Not that there aren’t uses of Twitter I dislike. In fact, for much of 2009, I felt it was becoming too commercial for my taste. I felt there was too much promotion of commercial entities and products, and that it was relatively difficult to avoid such promotional tweets if one were to follow the reciprocation principle (“I really should make sure I follow those who follow me, even if a large proportion of them are just trying to increase their follower counts”). But none of this means that “Twitter isn’t for commercial promotion.” Structurally, Twitter almost seems to be made for such uses. Conceptually, it comes from the same “broadcast” view of communication, shared by many marketers, advertisers, PR experts, and movie producers. As social media tools go, Twitter is among the most appropriate ones to use to broadly distribute focused messages without having to build social relationships. So, no matter how annoyed I may get at these tweets and at commercial Twitterers, it’d be inaccurate to say that “Twitter isn’t for that.” Besides, “Twitter, Inc.” has adopted commercial promotion as a major part of its “business model.” No matter what one feels about this (say, that it’s not very creative or that it will help distinguish between commercial tweets and the rest of Twitter traffic), it seems to imply that Twitter is indeed about commercial promotion as much as it is about “shar[ing] and discover[ing] what’s happening now.”

The same couldn’t be said about other forms of tweeting that others may dislike. It’d be much harder to make a case for, say, conference liveblogging as being an essential part of what Twitter is about. In fact, some well-known and quite vocal people have made pronouncements about how inappropriate, in their minds, such a practice was. To me, much of it sounds like attempts at rationalizing a matter of individual preference. Some may dislike it but Twitter does make a very interesting platform for liveblogging conferences. Sure, we’ve heard about the negative consequences of the Twitter backchannel at some high-profile events. And there are some technical dimensions of Twitter which make liveblogging potentially more annoying, to some users, than if it were on another platform. But claiming that Twitter isn’t for liveblogging  reveals a rather rigid perspective of what social media can be. Again, one of the major strengths in Twitter is its flexibility. From “mentions” and “hashtags” to “retweets” and metadata, the platform has been developing over time based on usage patterns.

For one thing, it’s now much more conversational than it was in 2007, and some Twitter advocates are quite proud of that. So one might think that Twitter is for conversation. But, at least in my experience, Twitter isn’t that effective a tool for two-way communication let alone for conversations involving more than two people. So, if we’re to use conversation to evaluate Twitter (as its development may suggest we should do), it seems not to be that successful.

In this blog version of my list, I added a header with a mention of the “Tweet Police.” I mean it in the way that people talk about the “Fashion Police,” wish immediately makes me think about “fashion victims,” the beauty myth, the objectification of the human body, the social pressure to conform to some almost-arbitrary canons, the power struggles between those who decide what’s fashionable and those who need to dress fashionably to be accepted in some social contexts, etc. Basically, it leads to rather unpleasant thoughts. In a way, my mention of the “Tweet Police” is a strategy to “fight this demon” by showing how absurd it may become. Sure, it’d be a very tricky strategy if it were about getting everyone to just “get the message.” But, in this case, it’s about doing something which feels good. It’s my birthday, so I allow myself to do this.


Development and Quality: Reply to Agile Diary

Former WiZiQ product manager Vikrama Dhiman responded to one of my tweets with a full-blown blogpost, thereby giving support to Matt Mullenweg‘s point that microblogging goes hand-in-hand with “macroblogging.”

My tweet:

enjoys draft æsthetics yet wishes more developers would release stable products. / adopte certains produits trop rapidement.

Vikrama’s post:

Good Enough Software Does Not Mean Bad Software « Agile Diary, Agile Introduction, Agile Implementation.

My reply:

“To an engineer, good enough means perfect. With an artist, there’s no such thing as perfect.” (Alexander Calder)

Thanks a lot for your kind comments. I’m very happy that my tweet (and status update) triggered this.

A bit of context for my tweet (actually, a post from Ping.fm, meant as a status update, thereby giving support in favour of conscious duplication, «n’en déplaise aux partisans de l’action contre la duplication».)

I’ve been thinking about what I call the “draft æsthetics.” In fact, I did a podcast episode about it. My description of that episode was:

Sometimes, there is such a thing as “Good Enough.”

Though I didn’t emphasize the “sometimes” part in that podcast episode, it was an important part of what I wanted to say. In fact, my intention wasn’t to defend draft æsthetics but to note that there seems to be a tendency toward this æsthetic mode. I do situate myself within that mode in many things I do, but it really doesn’t mean that this mode should be the exclusive one used in any context.

That aforequoted tweet was thus a response to my podcast episode on draft æsthetics. “Yes, ‘good enough’ may work, sometimes. But it needs not be applied in all cases.”

As I often get into convoluted discussions with people who seem to think that I condone or defend a position because I take it for myself, the main thing I’d say there is that I’m not only a relativist but I cherish nuance. In other words, my tweet was a way to qualify the core statement I was talking about in my podcast episode (that “good enough” exists, at times). And that statement isn’t necessarily my own. I notice a pattern by which this statement seems to be held as accurate by people. I share that opinion, but it’s not a strongly held belief of mine.

Of course, I digress…

So, the tweet which motivated Vikrama had to do with my approach to “good enough.” In this case, I tend to think about writing but in view of Eric S. Raymond’s approach to “Release Early, Release Often” (RERO). So there is a connection to software development and geek culture. But I think of “good enough” in a broader sense.

Disclaimer: I am not a coder.

The Calder quote remained in my head, after it was mentioned by a colleague who had read it in a local newspaper. One reason it struck me is that I spend some time thinking about artists and engineers, especially in social terms. I spend some time hanging out with engineers but I tend to be more on the “artist” side of what I perceive to be an axis of attitudes found in some social contexts. I do get a fair deal of flack for some of my comments on this characterization and it should be clear that it isn’t meant to imply any evaluation of individuals. But, as a model, the artist and engineer distinction seems to work, for me. In a way, it seems more useful than the distinction between science and art.

An engineer friend with whom I discussed this kind of distinction was quick to point out that, to him, there’s no such thing as “good enough.” He was also quick to point out that engineers can be creative and so on. But the point isn’t to exclude engineers from artistic endeavours. It’s to describe differences in modes of thought, ways of knowing, approaches to reality. And the way these are perceived socially. We could do a simple exercise with terms like “troubleshooting” and “emotional” to be assigned to the two broad categories of “engineer” and “artist.” Chances are that clear patterns would emerge. Of course, many concepts are as important to both sides (“intelligence,” “innovation”…) and they may also be telling. But dichotomies have heuristic value.

Now, to go back to software development, the focus in Vikrama’s Agile Diary post…

What pushed me to post my status update and tweet is in fact related to software development. Contrary to what Vikrama presumes, it wasn’t about a Web application. And it wasn’t even about a single thing. But it did have to do with firmware development and with software documentation.

The first case is that of my Fonera 2.0n router. Bought it in early November and I wasn’t able to connect to its private signal using my iPod touch. I could connect to the router using the public signal, but that required frequent authentication, as annoying as with ISF. Since my iPod touch is my main WiFi device, this issue made my Fonera 2.0n experience rather frustrating.

Of course, I’ve been contacting Fon‘s tech support. As is often the case, that experience was itself quite frustrating. I was told to reset my touch’s network settings which forced me to reauthenticate my touch on a number of networks I access regularly and only solved the problem temporarily. The same tech support person (or, at least, somebody using the same name) had me repeat the same description several times in the same email message. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was also told to use third-party software which had nothing to do with my issue. All in all, your typical tech support experience.

But my tweet wasn’t really about tech support. It was about the product. Thougb I find the overall concept behind the Fonera 2.0n router very interesting, its implementation seems to me to be lacking. In fact, it reminds me of several FLOSS development projects that I’ve been observing and, to an extent, benefitting from.

This is rapidly transforming into a rant I’ve had in my “to blog” list for a while about “thinking outside the geek box.” I’ll try to resist the temptation, for now. But I can mention a blog thread which has been on my mind, in terms of this issue.

Firefox 3 is Still a Memory Hog — The NeoSmart Files.

The blogpost refers to a situation in which, according to at least some users (including the blogpost’s author), Firefox uses up more memory than it should and becomes difficult to use. The thread has several comments providing support to statements about the relatively poor performance of Firefox on people’s systems, but it also has “contributions” from an obvious troll, who keeps assigning the problem on the users’ side.

The thing about this is that it’s representative of a tricky issue in the geek world, whereby developers and users are perceived as belonging to two sides of a type of “class struggle.” Within the geek niche, users are often dismissed as “lusers.” Tech support humour includes condescending jokes about “code 6”: “the problem is 6″ from the screen.” The aforementioned Eric S. Raymond wrote a rather popular guide to asking questions in geek circles which seems surprisingly unaware of social and cultural issues, especially from someone with an anthropological background. Following that guide, one should switch their mind to that of a very effective problem-solver (i.e., the engineer frame) to ask questions “the smart way.” Not only is the onus on users, but any failure to comply with these rules may be met with this air of intellectual superiority encoded in that guide. IOW, “Troubleshoot now, ask questions later.”

Of course, many users are “guilty” of all sorts of “crimes” having to do with not reading the documentation which comes with the product or with simply not thinking about the issue with sufficient depth before contacting tech support. And as the majority of the population is on the “user” side, the situation can be described as both a form of marginalization (geek culture comes from “nerd” labels) and a matter of elitism (geek culture as self-absorbed).

This does have something to do with my Fonera 2.0n. With it, I was caught in this dynamic whereby I had to switch to the “engineer frame” in order to solve my problem. I eventually did solve my Fonera authentication problem, using a workaround mentioned in a forum post about another issue (free registration required). Turns out, the “release candidate” version of my Fonera’s firmware does solve the issue. Of course, this new firmware may cause other forms of instability and installing it required a bit of digging. But it eventually worked.

The point is that, as released, the Fonera 2.0n router is a geek toy. It’s unpolished in many ways. It’s full of promise in terms of what it may make possible, but it failed to deliver in terms of what a router should do (route a signal). In this case, I don’t consider it to be a finished product. It’s not necessarily “unstable” in the strict sense that a software engineer might use the term. In fact, I hesitated between different terms to use instead of “stable,” in that tweet, and I’m not that happy with my final choice. The Fonera 2.0n isn’t unstable. But it’s akin to an alpha version released as a finished product. That’s something we see a lot of, these days.

The main other case which prompted me to send that tweet is “CivRev for iPhone,” a game that I’ve been playing on my iPod touch.

I’ve played with different games in the Civ franchise and I even used the FLOSS version on occasion. Not only is “Civilization” a geek classic, but it does connect with some anthropological issues (usually in a problematic view: Civ’s worldview lacks anthro’s insight). And it’s the kind of game that I can easily play while listening to podcasts (I subscribe to a number of th0se).

What’s wrong with that game? Actually, not much. I can’t even say that it’s unstable, unlike some other items in the App Store. But there’s a few things which aren’t optimal in terms of documentation. Not that it’s difficult to figure out how the game works. But the game is complex enough that some documentation is quite useful. Especially since it does change between one version of the game and another. Unfortunately, the online manual isn’t particularly helpful. Oh, sure, it probably contains all the information required. But it’s not available offline, isn’t optimized for the device it’s supposed to be used with, doesn’t contain proper links between sections, isn’t directly searchable, and isn’t particularly well-written. Not to mention that it seems to only be available in English even though the game itself is available in multiple languages (I play it in French).

Nothing tragic, of course. But coupled with my Fonera experience, it contributed to both a slight sense of frustration and this whole reflection about unfinished products.

Sure, it’s not much. But it’s “good enough” to get me started.


Apps and iTunes Cards in Canada: Follow Up

Recently blogged about this issue: though information about this appears nowhere on the card or in the terms of service, iTunes Cards (gift cards or certificates) may not be used to purchase applications on the Canadian version of the iTunes Store.

Since I posted that blog entry, a few things have happened. I did receive replies from Apple, which were rather unhelpful. The most useful one was this message:

Hello Alexandre,

I understand and apologize about your situation and i do want to assist you as much as possible . I am going to issue you 10 song credit. Again i apologize and i hope this issue gets resolved. I will also apply feedback about this issue .

Thank you for choosing iTunes Store and have a great day.

Sincerely,

Todd
iTunes Store Customer Support

I had no intention of purchasing tracks on the iTunes Store at this point but I do “appreciate the gesture.” Here’s what I wrote back:

Thanks. I wasn’t planning on downloading songs but I appreciate the gesture.

Not overwhelming gratitude on my part. Simply stating that, though this isn’t appropriate, I can still be polite.

What’s funny is that I received this reply to my simple “thank you” note:

Dear Alexandre,

You’re very welcome. I’m glad to hear that i was able to help some .

Nothing makes Apple happier than to hear that we have pleased our customers. I hope that you continue to enjoy the iTunes Store.

Thank you for choosing iTunes Store and have a great day.

Sincerely,

Todd
iTunes Store Customer Support

From that message, you’d think I had praised the iTunes Store for hours on end.

Just in case it might make a difference, I tried filing another support request. Here’s the reply on that one:

Dear Alexandre,

Welcome to the iTunes Support Site. My name is Staci and I am here to assist you.

Thank you for contacting Apple about the App Store. We’re glad you’re interested in
this new offering.

I’m sorry, but you will not be able to purchase games or applications with store
credit or an iTunes Gift Card in Canada. Customers residing in Canada may only
purchase games and applications using a credit card.

I am confident that the information provided will solve your gift card issue. If
you have further questions, I can be contacted during the hours listed below. Thank
you and have a prosperous New Year.

Sincerely,

Staci
iTunes Stores Customer Support

This one sounds even more like a canned reply and  “the information provided” doesn’t, in fact, “solve [my] gift card issue.”

Clearly, Apple isn’t “doing the right thing.” In terms of customer service, it’s not a positive experience. I did enjoy some aspects of the iTunes Store and I think it’s quite convenient. But I’m not “enjoying the iTunes Store” so much, anymore.

In the meantime, I started receiving comments on my previous blogpost on the issue. One was from someone who purchased a 150$ iTunes Card. Almost as much as the 8GB iPod nano.

Most of the advice given on this issue, outside from Apple’s unhelpful replies, has to do with things which are illicit. One would be to resell tracks purchased with this card to other iTunes users. Since the tracks are now all DRM-free, this is technically feasible. But it’s also illicit and potentially traceable. Another piece of advice, to purchase applications using an iTunes Card, is to buy a card in the US. As far as I know, this is technically doable but it also contradicts Apple terms of service.

Not good solutions, but ones which disgruntled iTunes Card buyers may contemplate.

Since then, I also received a message asking me to complete a survey about my experience with Apple support. Here’s the complaint I included in that survey:

I was given the “runaround” on a very easy issue: I need a refund.
There’s an obvious problem with the fact that iTunes Cards may not be used to purchase applications on the Canadian version of the iTunes Store. Nowhere on the card itself or even in the Terms of Service is this restriction mentioned. As this issue gains prominence, Apple could get a significant hit in consumer perception. Not sure if it will become a class action lawsuit, but it’s as significant an issue.
Email replies were disappointingly unhelpful. Instead of investigating the situation, I was led to a forum post musing about the possible reasons for this restriction. I was eventually credited ten songs even though I had no intention of getting tracks on the iTunes Store at this point.
While the amount of money is relatively small in my case, I’m getting comments on my blog from people who lost the money equivalent of an iPod nano.

Again, I probably won’t file a class action lawsuit against Apple, in part because these suits mostly make money for lawyers. But my dissatisfaction with Apple remains. In a way, it even grows, because there were several opportunities for Apple to “do the right thing.” Yes, it’s partly on principle. But it’s also a matter of the way the corporation is perceived. In this case, they sound polite but quite dismissive.

There’s no question in my mind that a mistake was made: no information on this restriction was added anywhere a gift card purchaser may find it. Because of this, people are redeeming iTunes Cards with the specific intention of enjoying their iPhone or iPod touch in a new way. As this was a season of gift-giving, some people probably received these gift cards and, thinking they might use them anywhere on iTunes, redeemed these cards instead of returning them. Only to find out, after the fact, that “you will not be able to purchase games or applications with store credit or an iTunes Gift Card in Canada.”

Bummer.

This frustration isn’t such a big deal in the abstract. But context is everything. Part of the context is the set of restrictions placed by the iTunes Store in general. It may not have been much of an issue, for a given user, that it’s impossible to buy applications directly from developers, unlike Android Market (the Google equivalent to the App Store). For casual users, this is pretty much a non-issue, especially since the App Store is so convenient. But this restriction becomes quite conspicuous once an iPhone or iPod touch user runs into this kind of problem.

There’s a broader issue. With the iTunes Store, Apple is sometimes said to have “solved micropayment.” Ever since the iTunes Music Store opened, at least part of Apple’s success has been assigned to the Amazon-like way they implemented their payment structure and it’s quite likely that the iTunes Store model has been having positive effects on the way Apple is perceived by investors. Because of the way it handles payments and reduces overhead, Apple has been able to make money on relatively small amounts of 99¢ (and, recently, 69¢). I’d call this “minipayment” because one can easily imagine even smaller amounts being paid online (for instance, a minute of cellular or long-distance communication). In this case, Nokia, eBay/Skype, and cellphone carriers have better micropayment systems. But Apple still deserves “Wall Street cred” for the way it handles small payments.

Yet, once you start thinking about Apple’s payment system in more details, say because of a bad experience with the applications section of the iTunes Store, you start noticing how flimsy the payment structure is because it relies on users willingly entering a closed system. It’s not just that the iTunes Store is closed. It’s that, once you buy on Apple, you need to restrict yourself to “Apple’s ecosystem.” This has often been the case on a technical level. It’s now a matter more visible to the casual end user: money.

From a “tech media” perspective, this closed ecosystem is part of a pattern for Apple. But the financial part isn’t frequently discussed.

It will sound like a strange analogy but it’s the one with which I come up as I think about this: IKEA bedding. Because IKEA’s measurements are metric, bed linen was an issue with IKEA-purchased mattresses in Canada. Not sure if it’s still the case but it used to be that those who bought beds at IKEA were then stuck with metric measurements for bed linen and those are difficult to find in Canada. In effect, those who purchased beds at IKEA were restricted to IKEA linen.

In computer terms, the classic case is that of a difference in fileformat between products from two developers. Apple certainly had its share of “format wars” but it mostly solved these issues. Recent Macs (including the Mac mini Intel Core Duo I’m currently using) support a Windows installation as well as Mac OS X. In terms of networking, it’s now quite easy to set up mixed networks with both Mac OS X and Windows machines. Even the music part of the iTunes Store is lifting those restrictions which made them technically incompatible with other devices. All in all, Apple has gone away from its strict control, at least in technical terms.

But in financial terms, Apple is using a fairly restrictive model for its iTunes Store. Once money gets into an account (through gift cards, allowances, or “gifting”), it can only be used on that account. Because of some restrictions specific to Canada, some of that money is restricted from use for buying applications. And Paypal isn’t available as a payment option in the Canadian iTunes Store. In effect, the only way to purchase an application for the iPhone or iPod touch is through a valid credit card. Given the fact that a majority of people are likely to have some kind of credit card, this doesn’t seem too restrictive. But there’s a variety of reasons people may not have valid credit cards and there’s no connection between buying something on the App Store and using a credit card. The iPod touch has been marketed as a gaming platform during the holidays and chances are that some iPod touch owners are children without credit cards. I’m not sure what the options are for them to buy iPod touch games. The same could be said about games for the iPod Classic, a device which clearly is used by children.

Part of the problem relates to the Canadian financial system. For one thing, debit cards with credit card numbers are rare in Canada (I’m not sure they exist). Many Canadians tend to use Interac, which does offer some advantages over credit cards, IMHO. As I’ve recently experienced, Interac now works online. It would make a lot of sense for Apple to support it online (I’m sure Canadian Apple Stores already support it). And there must be a reason Paypal, which can be used for iTunes Store purchases in the US, is unavailable in the Canadian iTunes Store.

So, yet again, Apple’s Canadian customers appear “underprivileged” by comparison with US customers. In public perception, this is pretty much a pattern for Apple.

I don’t think that the messages I’ve received helped. Though they were polite, they were dismissive as my problem was basically dismissed. From being dismissive, Apple can sound arrogant. And arrogance is tricky, in today’s marketplace.

I’m reminded of the recent Simpsons episode about Apple. Excerpts of it made their way to YouTube as they play on several gripes people have with Apple. Arrogance was clearly a key theme in that episode. Another Apple parody, the MacBook Wheel spoof from The Onion, was more directly centred on making fun of users and elements related to Apple’s perceived arrogance were less obvious.

I don’t own AAPL.0 stock but, if I did, I might sell some. Sounds silly but corporations which treats its customers in this way aren’t something I would invest in. Despite the fact that I do “invest” in Apple products.

I just wish Apple “did the right thing.”


Old Syntax, New Context (Spoof)

Because The Onion Radio News has released a fake news item about an alleged move to Anglo-Saxon syntax, a number of linguist bloggers (including the venerable Language Log) have discussed the original article in the written version of The Onion.

  • tags: no_tag

    • One thing I like about this spoof is that this syntax quickly seems natural and native speakers seem to have an easy time adopting it. One reason might be that English-speakers are often trained to read rather old texts. Rabelais had a similar impact on me, though it took more than a few pages before I really got used to the language and was able to read the original text without reference to translations into Modern French. One reason is that Rabelais’s French is not only syntactically different from modern French but also different in lexicon and spelling. Not to mention that the cultural context has changed enough that reading Pantagruel was an ethnographic experience. (Of course, the texts themselves were largely about exploration and discovery, which are related to ethnography). Maybe I should reread Rabelais. It’s been more than twenty years. – post by enkerli

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.


One Think Per Child

Biancastrada Holdings LLC,  the group which brought you the famed and highly successful $100 laptop, is proud to present its new approach to saving The Rest of The World©: The One Think Per Child™ project (OTPC™).

OTPC™ is a brand new civilizing mission which goes back more than four centuries, to the early days of the Weberian Revolution. At the time, ideas were the size of dinosaurs and they terrified young children. Nobody ever thought that children could ever get their own ideas. But one pioneering young man by the name of Same-Old Paper single-handedly took control of the situation. He designed a smaller, Unified Idea (patent pending), which children could hold in their hands.

Setting up a small non-profit organization, Paper began to sell children “the one idea they would ever need,” henceforth known as “The One Idea®.” The printing press helped Paper quickly sell his Idea to all rich children around the World. Unfortunately, some tiny parts of the world were still too poor and desolate to afford Paper’s Idea. So Paper requested the help of Nicola Biancastrada, who had efficiently designed his own Ideas, through his training in architecture and political science.

What Biancastrada and Paper realized is that children in Africa or in Detroit can only afford inferior ideas, if they can afford any idea at all. So Biancastrada and Paper tried to find ways to manufacture The One Idea® at merely fifteen times the cost of the inferior ideas those hapless African souls were trying to own.

The result of the Biancastrada-Paper collaboration is the One Think Per Child™ program, a visionary project to give billions of poor children the possibility to afford The One Idea® on their own, regardless of adults around them. Biancastrada and Paper have a vision and they will make their vision come true.

Paper’s Idea is not merely a philosophical concept. It’s an educational tool, designed to help any child become elligible for welfare by the time they are forty years old. Philosophical details about Paper’s Idea are irrelevant since education is about Unified Thinking and the Whole Truth.

The OTPC™ project revolves around five core principles:

1) Child ownership. The One Idea® will enable foreigners to fully own children.

2) Low ages. As the saying goes, “catch them while they are young.”

3) Saturation. The One Idea® should leave no room for lesser ideas.

4) Connection. Anything a child does can be monitored through the World View Web.

5) Free and Open Source. The OTPC Non-Profit Foundation inc. surveyed the freshwater sources of the world in order to find the private corporation they charged with mass production of the OTPC Idea™.

While no plan has been made at this point to sell The One Idea® to children in rich and powerful nations, you can participate in the OTPC™ project through the Give Idea Get Ordained® program (GIGO®). This project, in collaboration with the Unified Free Church, enables anyone to purchase an OTPC Idea™ for a poor African child and become an ordained minister at the same time. Schools and States are welcome to take part in this program. Special discounts are offered to ideologues and demagogues.

Given the current relevance of the environment, the OTPC Idea™ is available in any color as long as it is green.

Act now!

The GIGO program and the OTPC Idea™ are only available from now until noon (UTC), 04/01/2008.


Post-March Wrap-Up

Well, it’s that time of the year…

TechCrunch has some important stories, today:

Also:

Not to mention ThinkGeek‘s seasonal offerings, like the Betamax to HD-DVD Converter, USB Pregnancy Test, YouTube Tazer, and Personal Soundtrack T-Shirt.

Remember, this is “Believe Everything You Read” Day.


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.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Third Culture Humor

Speaking of Third Culture people sharing some traits, Jordan Weeks’s Blogger profile links to the following page:

American Embassy School / American International School New Delhi, India, AIS/AES Alumni News

It’s one of those Jeff Foxworthy-type humorous lists of traits which might be shared by some group of people. In this case, the list is adapted from a Facebook group about Third Culture children. As it happens to be a group which I joined a while ago, those connections also work for the Small World Effect.

Anyhoo, I kind of like the list itself. Not because it’s unbelievably funny. But because I can relate to many of these things.

For instance, the following traits are quite relevant in my case:

  1. You flew before you could walk.
    • First airplane trip at six months.
  2. You have a passport, but no driver’s license.
    • Actually, I have two passports. And the fact that I don’t have a driver’s license is a matter of much discussion with people who are “unlike me” in this Third Culture sense. Because I dreamt just last night about getting a driver’s license, this item is probably the one which caught my eye and incited me to blog the list.
  3. You feel that multiple passports would be appropriate.
    • I do think multiple passports are appropriate in the current situation. But I do look forward to a post-national world in which citizenships and passports are irrelevant.
  4. Your life story uses the phrase “Then we went to…” five times (or six, or seven times…).
    • Technically, 21 times since December 2000, and several times before that. But I mostly moved alone and during my adult life.
  5. Living out of a suitcase, you find, has it pros.
    • Yeah, I kinda like living in boxes. I also enjoy the fact that this move to Austin might be my last one. Still, I do enjoy the lifestyle of the semi-nomad.
  6. You realize it really is a small world, after all.
  7. You can’t answer the question: “Where are you from?”
    • Well, I can, and my answer doesn’t need to be too complex. But it does get complicated when people actually try to understand who I am.
  8. Once you get home you miss your adopted home and vice versa
    • Oh, yes! It gets silly, actually. The curse of living in different places is that you always miss the other places. This one seems to be a big one for a lot of people.
  9. National Geographic (OR THE TRAVEL CHANNEL) makes you homesick.
    • Maybe not those specific examples, but still. I get homesick about Mali, even though I didn’t spend that much time there. And Mali does get on “exotic tv” fairly often.
  10. Rain on a tile patio – or a corrugated metal roof – is one of the most wonderful sounds in the world.
    • Again, because of Mali.
  11. You got to go home twice a year …that’s if you’re lucky.
    • This one might be very common but it still has been quite true of my life during the past 14 years.
  12. When something unusual happens and it just doesn’t seem to phase you as being something unordinary.
    • This one might just have to do with being an anthropologist. But it was pretty much true when I was a kid (and I associated it with being a “stateless person” («apatride»).
  13. You sort your friends by continent.
    • This one is technically true and kind of funny. But it’s not as relevant as some of the other ones because it’s more of a practical issue.
  14. You don’t think it’s strange that you haven’t talked to your best friend in a while because you know you will always have a unique bond.
    • I don’t even think you need to travel for this to happen but it’s certainly true for me. Though, it does influence my conception of who my BFF might be.
  15. Half of your phone calls are unintelligible to those around you.
    • This one is rather easy as a French-speaker living in Austin. But still.
  16. You are a pro packer, or at least have done it many times.
    • I was thinking about this a little while ago. Not only in terms of moving from one place to the other but also through being a child of divorce going to see his father every other weekend…

The following items are probably less relevant but they do fit, to a certain extent.

  1. You start to keep your experiences overseas to yourself because people look at you as though you are spoiled for having the opportunity to indulge in a new culture… sad.
    • The anthro’s curse.
  2. A friend talks about their dreams of traveling to across the world to a secluded country and you can give them all the best restaurants and places to visit. You’re like the traveler guidebook.
    • I enjoy doing it when I can, even just for the jetsetter factor, but I don’t do it much (because of the jetsetter factor).
  3. You have little or no contact with the locals but are best friends with people across the globe.
    • Pretty true in Austin so far, but it doesn’t look like it’ll remain the case for very long.
  4. You wake up in one country thinking you are in another.
    • Less frequent, nowadays. It tended to happen more frequently, earlier in life, because I wasn’t as used to moving.
  5. You don’t know where home is.
    • Not really accurate but there is this sense of disenfranchisement on the way back.
  6. You don’t feel at home at home anymore.
    • Sure. But temporary.
  7. When you start introducing yourself followed by your country of origin….
    • Because of my accent in English, this one is a given. And vice-versa: because of this “quirk,” I enjoy keeping my accent intact.
  8. You literally have real friends (not facebook friends) from different schools all over the nation on your friends list.
    • Depends which nation and it has more to do with being an academic.
  9. You have best friends in 5 different countries.
    • See BFF issue above but it’s still kind of true. At least for four countries on three continents.
  10. When you return to the States you are overwhelmed with the number of choices in a grocery store.
    • A Midwesterner friend of mine alerted me about this one, a few years ago and I did experience it in Canada on my way back from Mali or even from Canada to the United States. But it’s not that durable.
  11. You live at school, work in the tropics, and go home for vacation.
    • One of those common things for academics.
  12. You speak two (or more) languages but can’t spell in any of them.
    • I’m not too bad a speller, actually.
  13. You automatically take off your shoes as soon as you get home.
    • Is that supposed to be unusual?
  14. You think VISA is a document stamped in your passport, and not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.
    • In many contexts, sure.
  15. You hate subtitles because you know there is someone that can make an accurate translation.. you!
    • Any bilingual feels this, I’m sure. And it does spill over to languages you don’t in fact know, as you know the feeling too strongly not to get it elsewhere. For instance, in this interview with Larry Lessig on Danish TV.
  16. You watch a movie set in a ‘foreign country’, and you know what the nationals are really saying into the camera.
    • Pretty much the same idea, but with the added exoticism of the “National Geographic eye.”
  17. You have a time zone map next to your telephone.
    • Not really but, like many others, I do have to memorize some timezones.
  18. Your second major is in a foreign language you already speak.
    • Not really the case for me. But I did end up using English as one of my foreign language requirements in graduate school and the other one is also related to my Ph.D. minor.
  19. Your wardrobe can only handle two seasons: wet and dry.
    • This one might happen here in Austin, actually. But I might just end up wearing the same clothes yearlong.
  20. You speak with authority on the quality of airline travel.
    • Kind of similar to the jetsetter factor above. Although, I do enjoy talking about differences in airplane food.
  21. When you carry converters because you actually realize there are different types of outlets.
    • Don’t we all realize this?
  22. You don’t even bother to change your watch when traveling.
    • Well, I do bother changing it but I wish there were more devices which automatically switch.
  23. When you were in middle school you could walk into a bar and order a drink without being questioned.
    • France was like that when I spent time there but I’ve never really lived there for an extended period of time.
  24. You are afraid to go back to visit your school because you know no one will be there whom you used to know, they all moved.
    • Actually, in my case, it was more about being surprized that people still lived there.
  25. You have the opportunity to intern at your Embassy/High Commission without any qualifications.
    • Not really close but I did think about doing it and it seemed like there might be ways to make it work.
  26. You got sick a lot and often had food poisoning.
    • Actually, I might have avoided food poisoning because of a diverse diet. But I did get sick for months while in Mali. Not really sure what it was, though. Might not have been the food after all.

So… I can somehow relate to about half of the 83 traits listed in the “International School” I’m taking these from. Yet my life hasn’t been that of an International School student. Or, really, that of a typical “Third Culture kid.” But as a “stateless person” («apatride») since childhood, as someone who did get to travel intercontinentally early on, as an anthropologist, and as an academic, I can relate to many of these traits.

I guess there’s a few I might add (though not phrased as elegantly):

  1. You often thought you might have recognized someone until you realized that this person is unlikely to have travelled along with you.
  2. You start a casual conversation with someone you knew years ago to realize after ten minutes that the last time you met was in a completely different part of the world.
  3. You actually don’t mind being told that you have an accent (including in your native language).
  4. You’ve had conversations in three languages or more, including situations in which you only understood one of the languages spoken.
  5. (Corollary of previous item) You’re fine with not understanding what people around you are saying.
  6. You don’t remember exactly where some aspect of your behavior might have been deemed normal.
  7. Members of a local community you just entered find you more “normal” than local people.
  8. You’re surprized when a flight takes less than six hours.
  9. You find National Geographic too exoticizing but you find mainstream media quite foreign.
  10. While moving to a new city, you get multiple “flashbacks” from very disparate places.
  11. You don’t really know what’s exotic to whom, anymore.
  12. You can’t remember what was the main language of a dream you’ve just had.
  13. You know exactly that feeling described in L’auberge espagnole of the unfamiliar rapidly becoming familiar when you move to a new place. (You know, the Urquinaona and Mandelieu section.)
  14. You don’t get impressed by well-traveled people.
  15. You never need to take on an act because you’re never completely sure who you are anyway.
  16. You’ve made friends in places where newcomers aren’t welcome.
  17. You actually don’t care so much about where you live but you do care quite a bit about how you live.
  18. You have a hard time acting like a tourist. Except in your hometown.
  19. You prefer meeting new people to seeing well-known landmarks.
  20. You can quickly find your way around any city, sometimes more easily than locals would.
  21. You spent your honeymoon visiting half a dozen places yet you didn’t spend a single night in a hotel room or in a campground.
  22. You get a Chowhound’s sense of what’s the best thing to eat at almost any place you visit.
  23. You don’t need a garage but you do need a guest room.
  24. You’ve presented the wrong passport to a border officer.
  25. You’re fluent in a number of varieties of your native language and this “quirk” carries on to your second or third language.
  26. You make a point not to spend too much time with people who “come from the same place” as you yet you do enjoy their company on occasion.
  27. You wonder why people around you find unacceptable something you thought was pretty commonplace.
  28. You’ve been back-and-forth enough that you’ve noticed a lot of changes in places wherre you’ve been yet you’re actually pretty neutral about these changes.
  29. Homesickness, nostalgia, saudade, “sweet sorrow” all refer to things you know so well that you’re sure you’d miss them. Yup, you might get nostalgic about nostalgia.
  30. You feel at home just about anywhere. Everywhere you go, you just fit. But, in a way, you don’t exactly remember what it feels like to be home.

    If other people can relate to the same set of things, maybe I’m not as weird as I’ve been told I am.

    One thing I feel weird about is that some of these traits sound self-aggrandizing. I kind of “left my humility at the door when I came in” but I still feel that associating myself with some of these things may make me sound like a self-serving snob.

    Ah, well…


    Techno-President Hopewood

    Not that I do political blogging but this guy has intriguing ideas.
    Tech Mogul Ray Hopewood in Bid for White House


    Legal Sense

    Not only does it titillate my humour-friendly fibers but the encouraging letter allegedly sent by SecondLife.com to the creator of the Get a First Life parody displays what is, to me (IANAL), perfect legal sense.

    Frivolous lawsuits and cease-and-desist letters are detrimental to the overall legal system involved in content creation (especially in the U.S. but also in other regions where the lobby groups such as WIPO are prominent). By showing that they apparently don’t intend to threaten a parody site, SecondLife’s lawyers show more than humour and common sense. They show an appreciation for the positive side of legality.

    More power to us!


    Beer Explosion and Other Cautionary Tales

    Here’s an old message I sent to the Members of Barleyment brewclub mailing-list, a while ago.

    ——– Original Message ——–

    Subject: Beer Explosion and Other Cautionary Tales
    Date: Mon, 1 Mar 2004 09:04:41 -0400
    From: Alexandre Enkerli <aenkerli@indiana.edu>
    To: brewers@wort.ca
    Got back from the in-laws this morning. The house smelled like beer.
    Not really a good sign.
    Had brewed a batch and bottled another one on Thursday. Left Friday
    afternoon. Thought the yeasties didn't need their herder for the
    weekend. The new Scotch Ale seemed happy, bubbling in a cool carboy
    with blow-off tube. The bottles of Mep were all warm and cozy, didn't
    seem to want to transform into little bottle bombs, yet.
    Where's that smell coming from? Oh, well, people were in the house
    during the weekend so if a catastrophe happened, they probably know
    about it. But let's check the bottles, just to make sure. Snif.
    Snif-snif. Sniffffffff... Nope, no b.o. (beer odour) here. Fine, then.
    Talked a bit with SWMBO before she left for work. Thought about going
    back to bed (got home before 7am). Hey, it's Spring Break for everyone,
    right. But no /Girls Gone Wild/ shooting in perspective. Just this beer
    smell...
    Speaking of beer: how's the new batch coming? It's always cool to check
    on a fermenting beer. Except, that...
    OMG! What's that thing where the carboy used to be? Did someone put it
    somewhere else? Looks like it. An empty beer pack isn't where it was on
    Friday. But, wait. This is the t-shirt that served as a carboy-jacket.
    Why's it all wet? And where's the Scotch Ale?
    Hey, the blow-off tube's still here. So is the wine bottle at the end
    of the blow-off tube...
    Uh-oh!
    Oops!
    There you go. That's where the b.o.'s coming from. And that's where the
    carboy morphed into a pile of shattered glass in a pool of wort. Smells
    good, though.
    
    Let's learn some lessons:
    a) Murphy's Law applies to brewing
    b) yeast can be mighty strong
    c) a rubber stopper can stick to a carboy more strongly than the
    carboy's walls themselves
    d) a blow-off tube shouldn't be constricted
    e) there's a reason to have a headspace above fermenting wort in a
    primary
    f) it's a good thing to have your fermenters in the basement
    g) carboys break fairly cleanly
    h) a 5 gallon carboy filled with about 4.8 gallons of wort might make a
    mess of ca. 1.5m^2
    i) New Brunswick's blue plastic bags for "dry" trash aren't really
    sturdy
    j) there are situations where beer odors don't smell so good
    k) it's probably a good thing to open-ferment ales in primary
    
    ["Whoooooo are you? Who-Who? Who-Who?"]
    Sara's surprisingly not in the mood for beer this early in the morning,
    so Warrick's the one taking the pictures and sending the yeast to Greg
    for DNA analysis. Al establishes time and cause of death: carboy
    explosion. Grissom, using his in-depth knowledge of brewing,
    establishes a timeline.  Lag time was probably around 9–10 hours,
    blow-off tube was blocked after 30 to 48 hours, pression accumulated at
    a rate of 2 PSI/hour, carboy exploded about 66 hours after pitch-in,
    most of the wort dried off in the remaining 18 hours.
    Stokes notices some mud-like substance on a fragment of glass. Analysis
    comes back: precipitated protein, yeast sediment... Yup, it's trub. But
    how did it get there?
    Catherine tours brewpub to identify the victim. The brewmaster at the
    pub: "Hey, it looks *somewhat* like Scotch Ale, but real Scotch Ale
    would be maltier and bigger." A botched attempt at Scotch Ale? A
    lagered Tripel? Maybe...
    
    Ale-X, not in Vegas
    
    References/Apologies to:
    http://www.homebrewers.com/product/600671
    http://www.hum.utah.edu/english/faculty/brunvand.html
    http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~insrisg/nature/nw00/laFontaine.html
    http://www.edwards.af.mil/history/docs_html/tidbits/murphy's_law.html
    http://www.cbs.com/primetime/csi/main.shtml

    I hope this might help others, if only as a funny anecdote.


    Teaching Reforms and Humour

    A funny spoof (in French) on education reforms in Quebec since 1960.
    L’enseignement à travers les époques – 🙂 & < – by adamsofineti

    The “current” buzzphrase in Quebec is «approche par compétences», which could roughly be described as a “performance-oriented approach to learning” or, somewhat more generally, “objective-oriented learning.” The main conceptual tools used in this approach come from socio-constructivism, at least officially.

    It’s never a good strategy to make fun of colleagues but I can help but be amazed by how a conference presentation on «approche par compétences» manages to not say anything substantial on the subject. Here’s an iTunes link to that presentation. I’m sure professor Marie-Françoise Legendre is a very thoughtful scholar and that this MP3 version of her talk doesn’t do justice to her presentation, but there’s something about some of these approaches which just, honestly, makes me laugh.

    Funnily enough, my father was trained by Jean Piaget who is sometimes associated with constructivist approaches to learning. (In fact, my relativistic/holistic approach to life and anthropology probably relates very directly to some indirect influences from Piaget.) And my favourite Course Management System, Moodle, mentions (social) constructivism and constructionism in its philosophy statement. Many of the pedagogical principles labeled by those buzzphrases are widely accepted and I do personally tend to accept them. At the same time, some pedagogical practises allegedly based on these principles seems almost absurd to me and several colleagues.

    An interesting situation, if not a rare one.


    Effective Advertising

    Promotional video on Dan Levitin’s book:


    YouTube – This Your Brain On Music: Punk

    About the title of my new book: Most people born before 1984 or so and raised in the U.S. remember a PSA (public service announcement) that ran for many years as part of the government’s “say no to drugs” campaign. In that ad, which has been parodied many times from “Married With Children” to Weird Al Yankovic, a man holds up a single egg and says “This is your brain.” he then cracks it onto a frying pan and as it cooks, he says “this is your brain on drugs. . . any questions?”

    The title of my new book is a nod to that old Reagan-era ad, because of new research that shows that music activates many of the same pleasure centers as drugs do. Also, there is lots of new research on how people use music in their everyday lives; many people use music for mood-regulation, and for self-medication. We use music the way we use drugs such as caffeine and alcohol – to help us get out of bed in the morning or finish an exercise workout, to calm us after a stressful day, or to ease social interactions. As a fan once told Joni Mitchell, “before there was Prozac, there was you.”


    Alcohol Marketing, Craft Beer, and Responsible Drinking

    [UPDATE: Press release. Much clearer than the Hour article…]

    This could potentially be big for craft beer. A code of ethics for alcohol adverts.

    Hour.ca – News – Alcohol marketing becomes ethical

    A bit like video game manufacturer who propose rating systems for their own games, members of the alcoholic beverage industry in Quebec are trying to regulate their own advertising practises. According to the article:

    Under the new code, the following has been forbidden:

    • Using alcohol content as a sales argument
    • Associating alcohol with violent or asocial behaviour, or with illicit drugs
    • Sexism or the association of the product with sexual performance, sexual attraction or popularity
    • Implications that the product improves physical or intellectual capacities, or has health benefits
    • Encouraging drinking games or excessive drinking
    • Making the product particularly attractive to people under 18
    • Showing images of people who look younger than 25
    • Showing disrespect for those who choose not to drink

    By proposing such a code of ethics, the industry may possibly bypass government regulation. It also shows that its members are willing to go some distance in changing their practises.

    Educ’alcool‘s message, associating responsible (moderate) drinking with taste, is well-established in Quebec culture and this code goes in the same line. By contrast, in the U.S., advocacy for responsible drinking is criticized by academics and health specialists. IMHO, this criticism has the effect of encouraging younger people to binge drink, with sad consequences. Educ’alcool and Quebec’s alcoholic beverage industry are probably trying to avoid such a situation. Although it might sound counter-intuitive, binge drinking is not beneficial to their bottom line. After all, nobody wants to get sued for the death of any of consumers.

    The main apparent target of this code is beer advertising, especially on television. While Quebec has its share of beer ads with scantily clad women, even ads for some of InBev’s Labatt products are somewhat more subtle. In fact, the French-speaking versions of commercials for Labatt bleue have, over the years, represented an alternative to the typical "beer gets you laid" message. As typical of Quebec culture, these ads have used humour to carry their message, often with puns and other word play. For instance, one of the most recent ads uses a zeugma and the names of several parts of Quebec (strengthening the association between the beer and Quebec cultural identity). It also describes the beer in its association with food.

    Which brings me to the interesting point about craft beer. While beer advertisement is typically full of what this new code of ethics seeks to prohibit, craft beer positions itself in exactly the same line as Educ’alcool and this code of ethics: taste and responsible drinking. The only television ads I’ve seen for craft beer were made by Boston Beer company for their Samuel Adams products. These ads usually emphasize the brewing craft itself and have been discussed by many members of the craft beer crowd. An important point is that they’re quite effective at delivering the message about taste, quality, sophistication, and responsibility. (Actually, I wore a Samuel Adams t-shirt yesterday, after reading about the new code of ethics. Didn’t even notice the possible connection!)

    Any craft beer person will argue that craft beer always wins on taste. So if the new marketing message needs to focus on taste, craft beer wins.

    It’s quite striking that the code of ethics mentions people looking older than 25. IMHO, it’s overstating the case a bit. IMHO, nothing is to be gained by avoiding the portrayal of members of the 18-25yo age bracket in advertising for responsible drinking. This demographic is not only very important for the alcohol industry but it’s one which should be targeted by the responsible drinking movement. Educ’alcool does target people who are even younger than that, so that they "do the right thing" once they’re old enough to drink, but there’s no reason to let people down once they start drinking. Eighteen-year-olds are not only learning the value of responsible drinking, they’re integrating responsible drinking in their social lives. And they’re learning how to taste alcoholic beverages.

    Apart from age, characteristics of craft beer people are usually the same as those of the target market for beer in general. But their emphasis is really: taste, distinctiveness, sophistication, and responsibility. Again, perfect for the new type of ads.

    Speaking of beer marketing, the issue of Montreal’s Hour indie weekly also has a piece on the importance of beer sponsorships for the success of events in the city. Coincidence?

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


    News, Anthropology, Polygamy

    This is one for which I need help.

    Is there a serious debate, in the U.S., on the issue of polygamy?

    Don’t really have access to U.S. television news. Been getting information through many other methods (many of them online). But this one is about television news in the U.S. and it could be interesting.

    The latest Borowitz Report (Andy Borowitz’s spoofs, called “shockers”) is about polygamy:

    CNN Switches to All-Polygamy Format

    One thing about the Borowitz Report is that it often brings my attention to something in the actual news. Then, it’s easy for me to look it up on diverse news services and to dig up more details by going to diverse sources. Because it’s a spoof, the Borowitz Report doesn’t impose its conclusions on me. And it’s usually timely enough that it’s possible for me to read the deeper analysis instead of being caught up in all the knee-jerk reactions.

    But, in this case, it’s about television news and mainstream media. My guess is that CNN ran a few stories on Warren Jeffs and such. And there are obviously some entrenched opinions on both sides. But given the fact that kinship systems, including marriage practises, are among the core areas of cultural anthropology, are there people (anthropologists and non-anthropologists) who are discussing polygamy in a broad way? In fact, are people talking about marriage in diverse contexts? Isn’t there anyone talking about the social basis of marriage?

    For some reason, in the U.S., many people seem to assume that marriage has to do mostly with love, sexuality, or religion. And people there often think of polygamy as a way for a man to have sexual intercourse with many women. Perhaps because of Hugh Heffner’s life story. But isn’t Warren Beatty proof that you don’t need to be married to have sexual relationships with many different women?

    Because of this association of marriage with sexuality, it’s often difficult to get people to discuss the social issues associated with polygyny and other kinship systems. For instance, the actual power afforded women in a polygynous household. Or the economic basis of marriage systems.
    The debate over polygamy has been brewing for a while here in Canada and probably in the U.S. (where it’s connected with religion). But I’ve yet to see a serious attempt to discuss it in a thoughtful fashion.

    Can anyone prove me wrong?

    Thanks.


    Getting My Fix

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

    Ah, that rush you get from teaching!

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

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

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

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

    Ah, well…


    Fun with Laundry Detergent

    A friend sent me this.

    I saw this in a middle eastern grocery store yesterday and thought it was funny enough to take a picture. The rest of the box was in some foreign language, so I’m guessing it means something like “Super Clean” in fact…but I still thought it was funny.

    Funny Detergent


    (Spoof) Business “Relationships”

    Night On Town Fails To Rekindle Fading Business Relationship | The Onion – America's Finest News Source
    Funny and may help to think about distinctions in relationships. This one is in terms of a business alliance which takes on a romantic connotation.

    Technorati tags: , , ,