September 2004

The annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association is in San Francisco this year from Nov. 17-21, so there's no excuse for those of us in the Bay Area not to go.

Even though a lot of it is crap (I suspect that's true of every conference), there are some gems in there. I've picked out what I think are a few of the program highlights. Check it out.

This is a hilarious illustration of the ways that Microsoft Powerpoint is being misused:

The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation

Also see:

Edward Tufte: Powerpoint is Evil

Tufte has been on this rant for some time. The most useful point I take from this is to be skeptical of the information presented in Powerpoint – not to be sucked in by the perception of legitimacy that Powerpoint provides. It can obscure high quality information, and give false credibility to worthless information.

Kuro5hin has this article on some of the sickening choices people are not forced to make:

The employment application of a major temporary staffing company, Randstad, requires the applicant to authorize and consent to "drug and alcohol testing and/or a search of my person, my work area, my personal property and/or my automobile." [Emphasis added.] The application further threatens, "I understand that my employment may be terminated [if I test positive], if I refuse to consent to testing or to a search, [or if it looks like I cheated the test]" [Emphasis added.] Fired unless assumed innocent. Lovely.

I have a feeling if we really read all the fine print for all the things we subscribe to, sign up for, or participate in, we'd find out that our rights are nothing like we think they are.

Whoa, time to unplug.

Internet junkies in chilling cold turkey experiment | The Register

The fascinating thing is that the existence of the internet and the information it provides has changed what it means to be 'plugged in.' Always on, everywhere, all the time behvaior has created an environment where the minimum threshold of connectivity has been raised to an obscene level! When you're used to having all that power at your fingertips, I guess it's very hard to go without.

Apparently they're setting up a new global fund to help "shrink the technology gap between rich and poor nations." See:

Africa seeks gadget lovers' cash

I get the feeling that there are too many people who think that throwing equipment at the Digital Divide is the way to solve the problem. Sure, everyone might have a computer… but what the hell are they going to do with it??

In Baltimore I worked with an HP funded group doing an evaluation of their 'Digital Divide' related programs. One of the most interesting concepts that came out of the research was the idea of 'dropping boxes.' The people I worked with used the term to represent the idea of providing technology with no purpose – pulling a truck up to the corner and kicking boxes of computer hardware out the back. It was a recognition of the fact that technology with no purpose, no relevence, does nothing to solve the problems of the Digital Divide.

I'm surprised, then, that more Digital Divide reasearchers aren't focusing on making IT more culturally appropriate. Most of them think making something culturally appropriate means translating it to a different language. (hah!) I think of it more as understanding how the perceptions and behaviors which surround IT and information differ cross-culturally, and adapting technology and its implementation to suit that. You're sure to read more about this from me in the weeks to come …

I am a relative newcomer to the field of information studies where I now find myself. Coming as I have from the field of Applied Anthropology, I am used to people using the word 'cultural' to refer to almost any dimension of behavior, attitude, belief, etc. which has to do with people. People have culture.

At SIMS the disciplinary mix is much different, and the 'cultural' is not the dominant rhetoric. Instead most people say social. This confused me at first, as I carried with me the particular disciplinary biases the can pit anthropologists and sociologists against each other. So I went to talk to Nancy Van House, who provided a concise and enlightening explanation for the prevalence of the social over the cultural:

1. The interdisciplinary environment in which information studies sits owes a great deal to the work of Sociologists, in particular in fields such as the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK).
2. Talking about the social is less confusing. Many scholars, in particular computer scientists and similarly non-social sciency people, can mistake the word 'culture' as referring either to 'national culture' (e.g. "The Finnish are a dour people.") or 'high culture.'

So I began to adopt the term sociocultural. I don't want to argue about whether social or cultural is more appropriate because it seems to me that they overlap more than they are distinct. In my view culture does not necessarily exist only at the macro level of ethnicity or nationality. Wherever two people share beliefs and meanings culture exists. But it is most often useful to talk about culture when it involves enough people to be systematic – and then it becomes social. But back to the point…

Sociocultural as a term is unwieldy. Too many syllables. Why not simplify the whole thing? And so I give you:

(prounced like So-Shure-Al)

I found it a bit awkward at first, but it fits right in pretty quickly. Some examples of daily usage:

American sociure is bankrupy.
Some guy from the Sociurist Party just called.
That guy is completely sociurally inept.

Try it. I think you'll find it hits the spot!

I've struggled for days on the problem of images not displaying correctly in Firefox. But as soon as I began to get used to using the "View This Page in IE" button, I realized how stupid it was. What was the point of switching?

So I combed the internet for answers, and found… nothing.Not a thing. People seemed to be having similar problems but there were no answers. Just as soon as I was about to freak out, I figured it out: Symantec.

My computer has the Symantec Client Security firewall installed. I've been a real fan of it so far – it seems to have blocked quite a few attacks. One of the ways it is very good is in allowing you to customize the level of access that any individual program has. But after a little investigation, I found out that Symantec implicitly allows IE full access to the internet. For any other browser you have to specifically allow traffic. So it turns out the firewall was blocking some of Firefox's traffic, and not allowing it to fetch images in certain contexts.

I told the firewall to allow all traffic from Firefox and the problem was solved. But damn I hate that IE bias.

Well, the is my first post on my very own blog. I fully realize that nobody will ever read it, but it's nice to have a blog so I feel up to date with all the other geeks at SIMS.

Maybe sometime soon I'll have something worth reading to say. I'm not going to hold my breath though.