December 2004


The newest American Anthropologist (a publication of the American Anthropological Association) recently arrived at my doorstep with a cover story about Persian-language blogging. The article by Alireza Doostdar is titled '“The Vulgar Spirit of Blogging”: On Language, Culture, and Power in Persian Weblogestan' (PDF)

Also take a look at the cover art from the journal:
American Anthropologist Cover Art

Doostdar presents a mini-ethnography of a particular dispute on a popular Persian-language blog. It's a fascinating account of the place that blogging, the internet, and public forums in general hold in the context of some Muslim cultures. I need to read this article again, but expect some commentary in the near future.

Another fascinating article from Wired asks whether blogging is helping to 'open' Iranian society.

According to blogcensus.net there are 200,000 blogs in Persian, and some 65,000 of them are active. It seems like we need to look at doing some serious comparative work about the place of blogging in different cultures. Of course, we hardly know enough about blogging in the United States to begin any meaningful comparisons!

Check out Wikipedia for a fantastic article on Persian Weblogs.

I admit this is shameless. my brother is in a (Grammy award winning) singing group called Chanticleer. Despite the fact that they're mostly a classical group, they've recently released a new Gospel album called How Sweet the Sound.

It's fantastic, and it might make a great present. You can find it at any major music store, or you can get it here. You can also read a review of the album here.
I'm not a religious person, but I just don't know how you can't love an album that starts off with a song called "Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb."

I recently found a plugin for WordPress called AuthImage, which adds a simple image-based challenge response mechanism to the comment form. Users just have to type in a short, randomly generated string in order to process the comment. Not too much of a hassle.
(Thanks to Joe for putting me on to this tool at Alex Halvais' blog)

I've tried several different spam-killing mechanisms based on blacklists and stopwords and such, and none seems to work very well. This has absolutely ended my spam problem, at least for now. I highly recommend it.

One thing, though. The installation instructions are rather good, except they include one typo that'll break the whole thing. The instructions ask you to add a line of code to your wp-comments.php file that begins:

<img src="/wp-content/plugins…

But you've got to remove the extra slash at the beginning of the 'img src' statement. So it should begin:

<img src="wp-content/plugins…

I recently attached a tracker to my blog, courtesy of Extreme Tracking. (I highly recommend this free service…) The tracker provides a whole slew of interesting information, even for a blog with as modest a readership as my own.

By far the most interesting aspect for me has been being able to see the pages which refer to my site, in particular the search queries. It's such an interesting combination of queries that allows TechnoTaste to float towards the top of Google searches. One of the most gratifying for me is searching for the combination of 'ethnography' and a number of other words, including 'SIMS' and 'dream.' The other words are mostly incidental, but in one case I misspelled the word qualitative as 'qualitive,' and so for a while I was getting hits from people who keyed the same misspelling in to Google.

I also get hits from people searching for strings that just happen to be in the titles of my posts. Back when it was a hot issue, I posted a short commentary on the whole Jon Stewart debacle under the title 'Jon Stewart on Crossfire.' It just so happens that this particular way of phrasing the title is somewhat common, and so (somehow) my post on the issue got into the top 100 or so of several tens of thousands of hits for that phrase. It was enough to get quite a bit of traffic coming my way (relatively speaking).

Interestingly, it was about the same time I started getting hit with an irritating amount of comment spam on my blog. Of course, it didn't take me long to put two and two together and figure out that spammers were using searches for the popular Jon Stewart issue to find blogs that they should spam. So devious!! Now I've installed an image-based challenge-response system which has really cut down on the spam, but I still get quite a few hits from that query.

Here is a simple and useful macro for MS Word which will update all of the linked cross-references in a document at once. A lifesaver!!
(This works for PC Word… haven't tested it for Mac. Let me know!)

Sub UpdateAll()
Dim oStory As Range
Dim oField As Field
For Each oStory In ActiveDocument.StoryRanges
For Each oField In oStory.Fields
oField.Update
Next oField
Next oStory
End Sub

This past week I had the chance to visit Baycat, a wonderful community-based organization in the Bayview/Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. Baycat is focused on providing inspiration and education for underserved youth and adults in their community. Most of Baycat's programs emphasize projects and skills related to technology, and so it seems natural that SIMS should develop a relationship with them.

I feel like more academic institutions and departments should recognize the importance of allying themselves with community-based organizations. There are so many benefits in these mutual relationships. Gaining entree into communities is sometimes the hardest thing that researchers do, especially ethnographic researchers. Community based organizations can be gatekeepers for communities, and brokers for the trust they have developed through their programs and connections. Ethnography also suffers from the handicap that it is a place-based method. A community-based organizations can provide a valuable hub for ethnography. Getting involved with these organizations also encourages researchers to give back and keep their research grounded in the knowledge and experience of the communities they study and serve. I just can't say enough about the power of these relationships.

Although we were visiting Baycat to explore the possibilities for research there, my reactions to went far beyond that. It is so refreshing to get outside the academic community and talk to people who have their hands in the daily work of providing community-based services. It's easy, sometimes, to get wrapped up in the academic world and forget that the vast majority of the world isn't like that. I've often found that I get a much different and more useful sense of things from talking to people who are actually doing, instead of just talking about doing. Baycat has a wonderful feel about it. The people there are friendly and positive and obviously believe in what they do. The whole place is infused with that positive philosophy on empowering people and improving their lives and communities. It was really uplifting just to be there.

Baycat is just getting started – the space only opened about 5 months ago, and they are still developing their programs. If you're interested in what they do, or in contributing, please check out their website.

File this one under the cateogory of rants:

There's nothing worse than an ideologue. I'm tired of people telling me what I should believe or what I should be doing. (In fact, I'm tired of the word 'should' altogether.) I'm tired of subtle (or not so subtle) value judgements and comparisons. I love to hear other people's ideas, perhaps most especially when they aren't the same as mine, and I don't mean to suggest that people shouldn't express what they believe in what they say and how they act. But I don't want to be constantly hit over the head with someone's ideology. Simply expressing what one believes is not enough to make an insufferable ideologue – it's feeling the need to be explicit about justifying it all the time. I don't want to be made to feel defensive because of the comparison between another person's ideas (the 'right' ideas) and my own. Ideology is fine sometimes, but it's the worst kind of thing when it pops up too often.

…at least it was a relatively short rant.