I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and of the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past...A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira's past. -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Monday, July 25, 2005

Finally getting around to testing out Blogger's new photo tool. Much easier to upload pictures than with Hello, not that I really have many pictures to share (I figure most of the rest of the world isn't too interested in baby shots). So you get the red panda from the Syracuse zoo. Hey, it was this or the penguins.

All dressed up and no place to go

Well, not exactly. But I do now have a lovely webcam hooked up to my computer, along with VSkype and Spontania4IM. So all technologically up to date with my social tools...and yet who to talk to? Must get others hooked up as well I suppose...

Thursday, July 21, 2005


We have been watching Michael Palin's Himalaya. I've been a fan of his travel series since I lived in England while Pole to Pole was broadcast, and a friend also turned me on to Around the World in 80 Days (which is still the best of the lot).

Himalaya doesn't have the consistency of the journey of some of the other series. In the televised version he suddenly gets from one place to the next and you know you have missed something, though the advantage of the website is that you can read the full travel journal. However, I was totally enthralled, and after each episode I found myself online, either reading more details in the journal or looking up information on places and cultures I knew nothing about. There is a huge saltwater lake called Namtso at 15,000 ft. on the Tibetan Plateau? The Naxi in Yunan have a 1000 year old hieroglyphic language? Yes, I have spent a lot of time studying India (admittedly the south) but really know next to nothing about Nagaland. While the focus of the show is travel, the brief encounters with places and people did have me digging for more.

And of course there was a certain amount of envy...wouldn't that be a great trip to take (ok, not to mention with the full force of the BBC supporting you). But at the same time, it was very clear to me early on that with or without the BBC, as I woman I would not be able to recreate his journey completely. Most of the places it would not matter, but there were definitely stops where I would not have been welcomed.

Anyway, I recommend poking around and finding your own paths to pursue further. It's still a big world out there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Recreating Babel

While my own anthropology training actually did not include much linguistics, I have always been fascinated with the subject. And, in the last two days I have seen two articles that sparked my thinking. The first article was on the Oneida Nation of New York, whose language was dying with the elders. The tribe worked with Berlitz to develop an intense curriculum, then paid several members to learn the language. Those first students then became the instructors for others, and they are working to teach the language in the schools (and, just as important, have the kids care about learning it).

The second article was about Ethnologue, which is an amazing resource on the world's languages. According to the latest edition, there are 6,912 living languages in the world--an increase over the 6,809 in the 2000 edition. An interesting contrast to the reported death of languages. Of course, Ethnologue is not so concerned with how many native speakers there are, and the lines between what is a dialect and what is a language is always a fuzzy one...And Ethnologue, having missionary origins, counts a language if it is distinct enough to need its own Bible translation. The article does point out the contradiction between a resource recording and presumably preserving languages, which is based in missionary work that does in its own way destroy cultures.

Race and perception

Interesting research project...An anthropology undergraduate bought paint samples in a range of shades from light to dark. She then had other students order them from lightest to darkest and place a dividing line between "white" and "black." She found that where people placed the line varied widely. She concluded that this was an indication of "the arbitrariness and subjectivity of racial categories."

One can certainly argue that paint and skin color are not necessarily comparable, but the results are interesting (though as an anthropologist I certainly don't need convincing about the arbitrariness and subjectivity of race). I wonder if one could repeat the experiment, with pictures of skin as opposed to paint swatches? I am sure the results would be the same, but what other impressions people carry with them change when you only see a small piece of a person?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Tripping Down Memory Lane

My dad just sent me a Gilhoolie, a nifty device for opening jars we always had around the kitchen when I was a kid. He found it at the Vermont Country Store, and it of course came packed with a catalog.

I don't often take the time to go through catalogs, but its been a long week, and I finally got unpacked from all the trips, so I settled into a comfy chair and started to flip through. They have quite the eclectic mix...clothes (and underwear!) that your grandma and grandpa wore--even the rubber swim caps with big flowers on them. Oldies but goodies like Pears and Lifebuoy soaps. Candies from my childhood like banana splits and teaberry gum, and even Little Golden Books and magnetic Scotties.

I am currently feeling a great need to stop in one of their stores next time I am in Vermont...or perhaps even a special trip. Amazing how comforting that spark of distant recognition is!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Oh Canada

We snuck up to Ottawa for a couple of days last week as an interlude during our visit to my in-laws. We've really enjoyed taking vacations in Canada over the last few years--Can't deny the appeal of the exchange rate relative to the US dollar, but I think it is also nice to be able to drive yet still have managed to get to another country.

Anyway, we hadn't been to Ottawa before. We were suprised by how much it felt like Quebec City. Yes, they are both eastern Canadian cities, and yes, Ottawa borders Quebec province, but Quebec City is rather unique. Yet Ottawa captures some of the feel in the shops and sidewalk cafes and general feel (and Kurt asked why don't we have more sidewalk cafes here in the US--the weather isn't any better up there!)

It was also interesting to be in a city that really is focused around government. Washington DC is an example, but it is so structured around monumental architecture and a planned layout. Ottawa feels more organic, more European, but of course the European capitals are all cities with long histories and many other functions. I suppose Canberra is also a dedicated capital, but I haven't made it to Australia (yet!).

I would have like to have spent more than a couple of days. We mostly walked around, but it seemed like there were some great museums too...a place to return to.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Patriotism and Independence Day

Well I guess this one is happy Independence Day, for those of us in the United States and anyone living where they themselves would consider themselves to be free—I won’t presume to make that determination for others.

While I am not always happy with my government, or even some of my fellow countrymen and women, I am happy to be an American and do consider myself a patriot, in that I am proud of where I live, and the principles of our country. I don’t consider the definition of patriotism to be blind allegiance to one’s government—only a love of one’s homeland and a desire for it to be the best place it can be.

I have had the opportunity to live, work, and travel in many other countries and plan to continue to do so throughout my life. There are so many good things (and of course bad) everywhere I have been, yet I have never had a desire to permanently leave the US—perhaps simply because it is home. And I do consider myself lucky to have the freedoms that I do. There are so many places where my gender, religion, or political views would place many constraints on what I could do. I have never felt myself constrained and I know I am fortunate that I don’t fully comprehend what it means to be so constrained. I also know that not everyone in the US would be able to agree with the comments I have just made on my own behalf…but part of caring for my country is striving to help make it a place where everyone truly has the same freedoms.

I love a parade

Happy 4th of July (though by the time I write this it is the 5th of July some places, but anyway, I figure everyone had a 4th whether or not it was a holiday).

We took Julian to his first parade this morning. I suppose it was more for me than him, but he seemed to enjoy sitting on my lap and watching fire engines and marching bands (and not a few local politicians) go by. Something about parades always excites me.

Philadelphia, at least back when I lived there, was the parade capital. In addition to the justly famous Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day (an anthropological study in itself), it seemed like whenever we went downtown there was a parade down Broad Street. And of course there is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York—of course the best part of that is watching the balloons get blown up the night before north of the Museum of Natural History.

I actually got to be in a 4th of July parade in Oregon years ago the summer I was working for the Forest Service. I was Smokey Bear, and I have never been more popular in my life—all the kids wanted to hug me and talk to me. Around there, lots of jobs were dependent on logging, and since Smokey helps prevent forest fires, he is a pretty big deal. Of course, the same summer, the Forest Service wouldn’t allow Woodsy Owl out in public. Spotted owls were being declared endangered (thus limiting how much logging could be done, and thus cutting down on jobs), and Woodsy, happy symbol of non-pollution, had received death threats.

Assembly line on the flat world?

I’ve been reading The World is Flat, and last night I was struck with the thought that we may have created an international assembly line. At least in the history I’ve been taught, Henry Ford invented the assembly line as a way to mass produce his cars affordably. Every worker has one task, which they repeat over and over, but which they also become very proficient and efficient at—much more so than when the same workers are responsible for building all parts of an automobile or other machinery. However, the workers themselves are not very challenged, nor trained nor encouraged to build a large skill set. Friedman discusses how whatever the job is, it will be (or is) broken into its constituent parts, and sent to whoever in the world can do that job the best. Then, everything will be (or is) put back together again. I know the work is more complicated than assembly lines, but is there an analogy, or am I totally off base?

I am fortunate to work in an environment where even though I am an anthropologist, and presumably the expert in user observation and analysis, I also get to develop concepts, build prototypes and (yikes) build business models. Likewise, the engineers, designers, and MBAs I work with also participate throughout. Some feel it would be better if we each focused on our specialty, and in many corporate innovation groups that is exactly what happens. Maybe they are more efficient…but I wouldn’t be as challenged...

I don’t know what this means about globalization. I imagine those of us with creative skills, wherever we are located, will continue to be able to use those skills creatively in collaboration with others.