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Showing posts from June, 2005

CPB and other points of view

Kind of a continuation on the discussion of multiculturalism, extended to openmindedness...all the controversy here in the US over the supposed liberal bias of public broadcasting presents a lot to think about. It angers me to no end that taxpayer money was used (secretly) to hire a conservative consultant to analyze shows, and the results basically said that anyone who didn't explicitly agree with the Bush administration was liberal.

The whole "if you're not with us, you're against us" attitude frightens me, living in a country where I would like to assume free speech, and a multiplicity of opinions and open debate are a given. I worry that too many people do not realize that the rights to debate are being eroded.

At the same time the question of bias does force me to evaluate my own biases. Do I think of some programs as even handed because they do represent my own viewpoint? I'd like to think not, and that I can detect the biases, knowing what I agree a…

Kids Day and India

Last Friday was bring your kid to work day at Pitney Bowes. It's all very fun, begins with breakfast and a magic show, followed by tours for the older kids, then a big outdoor picnic. I was a tour stop, "Let's Travel to India." They put the kids in groups by age, since some of the stops are better for older or younger ones...I ended up with groups ranging from about 8-13 years old. It was fun but exhausting.

I figured the point was more fun than educational, so pretty much I set up a slide show to talk about the fact that we invent stuff by understanding how people live and work, and asking what they knew about India. Answers: lots of people, cows...Showed them pics of cellphones, malls and offices and lots of things that look pretty similar in India as in the US, then pictures of things that look different. Fun to see their reactions. They all noticed the Subway in the mall, and they all recognized the well in the village and understood what it was for and that…

Grafitti Archaeology

Have been exploring Grafitti Archaeology, a nifty site that won a Webby award. It won in an art category, but since I am trained as an archaeologist, I think it is fair to call it archaeology, since the site uses pictures to uncover the accretions of time--from present through the past to a sometimes "pristine" (non graffitoed) site (though not always).

Some of the sites change over a relatively significant amount of time, some fairly quickly over a few days...a social and visual history captured in photos. Another interesting thing is that a flickr community has built up around it, too.

Whistling languages

Heard on NPR the other day...a story about Yupik in Alaska, who have a whistling language, apparently the only one (or at least the only one still in use) in the US. There are a few others around the world, and they evolved as a way for people to communicate across distance, since a whistle can be heard from further away than a voice. The Yupik whistles mimic sounds in the Yupik language. The women being interviewed whistled in English, to give an example, though English did not seem as amenable to translation as Yupik.

Anyway, a fun anthropological story. There is such great advantage to us being able to communicate across shared languages (or shared language, yes we English speakers have it easy) and yet at the same time it seems so important to me that the diversity of languages remain, probably because they are also a symbol of the diversity of culture and the diversity of humans.

Wikitorials

I heard an interview this weekend with Michael Kinsley, editorial and opinion page editor of the The Los Angeles Times on their revamped editorial page and wikitorials. I have to admit while the community concept of the wikitorial intrigued me, I was not sure I totally agreed with his logic. Kinsley noted that in the early days of newspapers, editorials were where the publisher of the paper got his (yes, always his in those days) chance to voice his opinion to the world. Kinsley feels that this is largely irrelevant in today's world, where one conglomerate publisher may own many newspapers, with different editorial opinions. Thus the printed "op ed" pages should lean more to op than ed, and anyway, unsigned editorials carry less weight with readers than signed opinions (even if you have never heard of the opinion writer). And, the readers should have an opportunity to voice their "eds." Ultimately, the panel of editors that write editorials should perhaps even …

Statistically improbable phrases

I am undoubtedly way behind the curve on this, but I just came across Amazon.com's statistically improbable phrases:
Amazon.com's Statistically Improbable Phrases, or "SIPs", are the most distinctive phrases in the text of books in the Search Inside! program. To identify SIPs, our computers scan the text of all books in Search Inside. If they find a phrase that occurs a large number of times in a particular book relative to all Search Inside books, that phrase is a SIP in that book.So, I just had to play around...
spurious elements from The Tourist
our unfortunate client from The Complete Sherlock Holmes
waxwing slain from Pale FireMakes me want to compose my own story--I had to remove the spurious elements from our unfortunate client's story; he kept referring to the waxwing slain by a bird.

Tourism and Manufactured Experiences

We went to Baltimore this past weekend to visit my sister in-law and catch up with an old friend of mine who was visiting her sister. Baltimore has many of its attractions concentrated in the Inner Harbor, which used to be abandoned factories and warehouses from when the harbor was a shipping center. In the 1970's, it started to be redeveloped with Harborplace a festival marketplace much like Fanueil Hall in Boston and South Street Seaport in New York City. It also became the home of the National Aquarium, which, though we choked on how high the entry prices have gone, is pretty amazing if you are a fish fan.

During the day on Saturday we went to the Aquarium and a nearby children's museum, and I was mostly focused on catching up with my friend Jen and keeping Julian entertained. But Kurt and I went back to the Inner Harbor after dinner to walk around since we figured it would be cool by the water (and my wonderful sister in-law had offered to babysit).

We were amazed at how p…

How do anthropologists blink?

We (at Pitney Bowes) just had a visit from Patrick Whitney and some of his students (and recent graduates) from the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology. The visit itself was the culmination of a design course we sponsored, but we also had some interesting conversations about other work. Pat and others at ID have a project called Design for the Base of the Pyramid. Most of the research has been conducted remotely in India. The ID folks have set up templates and sent them to various researchers in India (social workers, architects, and MBAs, all new to observational research) with instructions to gather information in the slums of Mumbai.

One of Pat's goals is to develop reusable frameworks for research and analysis...I think this is interesting, though I guess as an anthropologist I am skeptical whether detailed frameworks can really be reusable across very different projects (though I will be watching what they come up with, and one thing I have learned is that …

The Tipping Point, storytelling, and good communication

I just finished The Tipping Point, which I really enjoyed. I doubt I have much new to add to the reams that has been blogged about Malcolm Gladwell's thesis, so I don't plan to comment on that. I did however try to think about why I liked the book so much (and immediately launched into Blink).

He does have a pretty interesting argument for how and why social epidemics happen. But I think what is just as important, if not more so, is the fact that he is very good at communicating. For one, he is a good, engaging writer. Knowing how to put a sentence (or a paragraph or a chapter) isn't enough though. He engaged and convinced me because he built the book on stories. Not just a compilation of anecdotes, but verifiable, detailed stories, with names mentioned and all. Taken together, he used the individual stories to build one coherent narrative in the book as a whole. It seems like a small thing, but it is pretty powerful. I try to think about my overall narrative (or, &…

Dolphin Culture

I always find these articles about learned and taught behavior in other animals fascinating. This article is on a group of dolphins that protect their noses with sponges and teach their young to do so also...would love to see a picture. [update, I found a picture here]. I am also not one of the anthropologists who has officially entered the debate as to whether humans are the only species that have "true" culture...there are undeniably some differences in our behavior and that of other animals, but also quite a few similarities. And, if primatology is a branch of anthropology (another thing I am not really sure of my personal views on, though I was in graduate school with plenty of primatologists), no reason not to look beyond the primates to understand ourselves.

Primates themselves do provide plenty of interesting fodder. Yesterdays' New York Times Magazine had an article by Stephen Dubner and Steven Leavitt (authors of Freakonomics), discussing Keith Chen's researc…

Adventures in the wonderful world of Microsoft

So when I turned on my home computer this evening, I got an error messsage I hadn't seen before, something about a Generic Host Process...I also got a message asking if I wanted to send an error report to Microsoft. I did. Suprise, when I opened my brower (or maybe it opened for me)? I got a screen saying there was an update for Windows XP that would prevent this error, but really, I ought to validate my copy of Windows first. Click again. Download a little program called GenuineCheck.exe. (OK, now I am just intrigued).

Ran the program. Got a nifty little validation number which I was told to paste into the appropriate form in my browser. Click again to continue. Now I get a message that my browser is not compatible...Oh yeah, I run Firefox as a default, Microsoft never likes that. So I open IE and paste the address bar in from the previous screen. Click continue. This time I get a similar message but it kindly offers to have me pull out my CPU to find my Windows product…