All posts by alexandre

Obligatory Nexus7 Test Post

Got my Nexus 7 a while ago,  but I wasn’t finding a use case for it. Thanks to a friend advising me to give Swiftkey a try,  I might actually make it work.
Something I might find especially useful about Swiftkey is the fact that I can mix languages,  quelque-chose que je fais assez souvent sur iOS mais qui demande un changement constant de clavier. Since I like Android’s speech recognition,  a combination of SwiftKey and speech might allow me to work efficiently.
Un truc que je remarque rapidement,  par contre,  c’est que le fait de passer d’un système à l’autre demande un certain temps de transfert de mots de passe. J’utilise des outils pour conserver des mots de passe sécuritaires,  et ils existent sur plusieurs plates-formes,  mais ça demande quand même un certain temps.
We’ll see how things go,  after a while. I do want to like Android’s and,  contrary to popular belief, I can be pretty open minded about such things. But I need appropriate contexts to try out different use cases. Otherwise,  having people yell at me because I’m yet to be sold on Android hasn’t been helpful.
Ok,  the test is enough for now. Having issues with the Swiftkey spacebar in landscape,  but I’m sure I’ll get used to it. Let’s post this and edit later.

Energized by Bret Victor

Just watched Bret Victor’s powerful video:

Inventing on Principle | CUSEC

Simply put, watching it was a lifechanging moment, for me.

In some ways, Victor’s talk was deeply philosophical, though it’s easy to assess it as a demonstration about software engineering. It was delivered (here in Montreal) at a software engineering conference and Victor masterfully adapted his talk to a software engineering audience.

But, more than Hofstadter “philosophy book, disguised as a book of entertainment, disguised as a book of instruction” (that I consider to be a computer science book disguised as semi-academic nonfiction), Victor’s talk is a call to action disguised as a talk on software engineering. It makes a profound philosophical statement using software engineering as a launching point. In other words, it may have had more of an impact on me (as an ethnographer and a teacher, but also as a human being) than it may have had on software engineers who were present.

Quite a feat for something which seems to have had a significant impact on some software engineers.

This impact relates to how I got to Bret Victor’s presentation…

I follow John Gruber’s Daring Fireball blog. On Monday, he had a short link post about Bret Victor:

Astoundingly insightful and inspiring essay by Bret Victor. One of the most thought-provoking pieces I’ve read in a long time.

That insightful essay is on Learnable Programming.

Its starting point is a response to Khan Academy’s use of his work. In that sense, it’s a levelheaded but rather negative review of what the Khan folks did. As such, I associate it with critiques from science teachers. For instance:

Khan Academy and the Effectiveness of Science Videos | Action-Reaction

Started reading that post but context was missing, for me. Wasn’t able to really hang on to it. I then decided to look at that post in which Victor was cited.

John Resig – Redefining the Introduction to Computer Science

Victor’s impact on software engineering is clear in that post, as Resig describes a shift in his thinking after watching Victor’s thought. But the shift was based on a few elements of Victor’s talk, not on the main ideas behind it. At least, that’s what I get after watching Victor’s presentation.

Of course, I may be wrong. In fact, my reaction to Victor’s talk may be based on all sorts of other things. Maybe I’m putting into it all sorts of things which weren’t there originally. If so, that’s a sign of something powerful.

And, again, watching it was a powerful moment.

I know… that sounds big. But it’s one of those triggering moments, I feel, when things are connecting in interesting ways. In fact, I’m comparing it to another lifechanging moment I had four years ago and which became the basis of my “Happiness Anniversary”.

What happened that time is a larger set of things, but one specific point connects that date with Victor’s presentation. Four years ago, I participated in a CTLS workshop by Janette Barrington called “Writing a Personally Meaningful Teaching Philosophy Statement”. That workshop was based in part on the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI), which is where the connection with Bret Victor starts.

Here are the five perspectives identified by Daniel D. Pratt and John B. Collins (summary):

  • Transmission: Effective teaching requires a substantial commitment to the content or subject matter.
  • Apprenticeship: Effective teaching is a process of socializing students into new behavioral norms and ways of working.
  • Developmental: Effective teaching must be planned and conducted “from the learner’s point of view”.
  • Nurturing: Effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart, as well as the head.
  • Social Reform: Effective teaching seeks to change society in substantive ways.

(Unsurprisingly, my highest scores were for developmental and nurturing, followed by social reform. Transmission and apprenticeship were quite low, for me.)

During the workshop, participants were teamed up according to these results. I don’t remember the exact details, but the mix of perspectives in our four-person team was optimal. We were so compatible with each other that we went to the “performing” stage of Tuckman’s classical model in no time. Haven’t heard from any of the three women with whom I was working, but it was a powerful moment for me.

Something I’ve noticed within our team is the importance of “social reform”. Though I teach social sciences, I’m no activist, but I find myself to be quite compatible with activists. In a way, my nurturing/developmental perspective is in complementarity with activism. I do wish to enable people, regardless of their goals. And these goals are often guided by deep principles that I tend to associate with activism.

Something else I’ve noticed had to do with engineers. If I remember correctly, there was a team made up of engineering teachers. They also appeared to be quite effective in their approach. But they were also quite distinct from our team. This has nothing to do with stereotypes and I fully realize that these same individuals may be quite different from one another in other contexts. But, at least in this context, they had a common perspective which, I would say, was furthest away from social reform and much closer to transmission.

Victor’s talk is doing the reverse, with software engineering. Through his presentation, Bret Victor encouraged engineers to think about the worldchanging potential of their work instead of emphasizing mere transmission of information (e.g., how to do a binary search). Given the talk’s influence on some software engineers, I’d say that it was quite effective. Not on everyone, and I’m sure there are engineers who dismiss Bret Victor in whichever way. But I find something there.

And much of it has to do with complementarity. Victor insists in his talk that it’s not about forcing people to “follow his lead”. It’s about allowing these people to understand that their lives and work can have a strong basis in deep principles. Having spent a bit of time with RMS, a few years ago, I can feel the effects of such lives and work.

So, how did Bret Victor change my life? In some ways, it’s too early to tell. I’ve watched this video and started reaching out about it, including in a long email to people I think might be interested. That email served as a basis for this post.

But there are some things I’m noticing already, which is why I call the experience lifechanging:

  • I’m finding ways to connect different parts of my life. I teach social science to people with diverse orientations to learning, often with an emphasis on problem-solving. Victor gives me a way to link problem-solving and social reform, making it easier for me to accomplish my goals of enabling people’s own goals.
  • While I’m no activist, my goals probably do relate to a core principle, which I haven’t really articulated, yet. Enabling others to action, or tummeling, gets very close to it.
  • For quite a while, now, I’ve been thinking about the role of public intellectuals. It’s something of a common theme on this blog, and I’ve been thinking about it in new ways, lately. Victor’s presentation is an exquisite (!) example of what I think a public intellectual can do.
  • More personally, this talk made me realize that I’m not so blasé after all. Lately, I’ve had times during which I couldn’t get stimulation. In fact, watching Apple’s iPad mini keynote left me with a definitive meh feeling, as if the “reality distortion field” had been turned off. Bret Victor’s CUSEC talk had more of an effect on me than did any Apple keynote, including celebrated ones by Steve Jobs.

I now feel a sense of purpose.

What else can I ask from 54″ of my time?

The Magazine and Social Media

Megaphone red
Megaphone red by Adamantios (via Wikimedia Commons, (GFDL, CC-BY-SA)

The following is my App Store review of The Magazine, a Newsstand offering by Instapaper developer Marco Arment.

Though I like Marco Arment’s work and there’s nothing specifically wrong about this implementation of the magazine model, I don’t find the magazine model particularly useful, at this point. And, make no mistake. The Magazine is indeed a magazine.

Oh, sure, this format overcomes several of the limitations set by advertising-based models and hierarchical boards. But it maintains something of the magazine logic: a tight bundle of a few articles authored by people connected through the same “editorial intent”. It’s not a conversation with the public. In this first issue, it’s not even a conversation among co-authors.

The “linked list” aspect of the “Fireball Format” (from John Gruber’s Daring Fireball media property) is described in one of the pieces in this first issue. Other distinguishing factors of the “Fireball Format” aren’t discussed in that same piece. They include a “no comment” policy which has become rather common among high-profile blogs. Unlike most blogs of the pioneer era in social media, these blogs don’t allow readers to comment directly.

A justification for this policy is that comments can be posted elsewhere. And since most of these bloggers are active on microblogging platforms like App.net and Twitter, there’s a chance that a comment might be noticed by those authors. What’s missing, though, is the sense of belonging which bloggers created among themselves before MySpace.

In other words, now that there are large social networking services online, the social aspects of blogging have been deemphasized and authorial dimensions have come to prominence. Though Arment dislikes the word, blog authors have become “brands”. It still works when these authors are in conversation with one another, when there’s a likelihood of a “followup” (FU in 5by5 parlance), when authors are responsive.

None of that interaction potential seems to be part of the core model for The Magazine. You can scream at your iOS device all you want, Jason Snell will probably not respond to you in a future edition of The Magazine. You can attempt dialogue on Twitter, but any conversation you may succeed in starting there is unlikely to have any impact on The Magazine. You’re talking with authors, now, not with members of a community.

With The Magazine, the transition from social to authorial is almost complete. Not only are posts set apart from the conversation but the editorial act of bundling posts together brings back all the problems media scholars have been pointing out for the past several decades. The issue at stake isn’t merely the move to online delivery. It’s the structure of authority and the one-to-many broadcast-style transmission. We’ve taken a step back.

So, while The Magazine has certain technical advantages over old school magazines like The Daily and Wired, it represents a step away from social media and towards mass media. Less critical thinking, more pedestals.

A new model could emerge using the infrastructure and business model that Arment built. But it’d require significant work outside of the application. The Feature might contribute something to this new model, especially if the way posts are bundled together became more flexible.

So, all in all, I consider The Magazine to be a step in the wrong direction by someone whose work I respect.

Good thing we still have podcasts.

Diète stricte

J’ai pas vraiment l’habitude de bloguer sur des trucs du genre, mais si jamais ça peut être utile à d’autres…

En guise d’avertissement: je parle ici de santé et de digestion. Vais pas entrer dans des détails, mais c’est pas nécessairement agréable à lire à n’importe quel moment. Si vous êtes sensibles à ce genre de truc, ce billet peut avoir un mauvais effet. Aussi, je n’ai aucune formation dans le domaine de la santé, je ne parle que de mon expérience personnelle.

Depuis trois semaines, je suis sur une diète très stricte, recommandée par une naturopathe. Nous essayons d’identifier la cause exacte d’un trouble digestif que je subis depuis une dizaine d’années. Je vous épargne les détails (!) mais après seulement quelques jours (moins d’une semaine), je pouvais déjà voir des effets positifs. Essentiellement, si mon trouble digestif est pas disparu, il a déjà une toute autre proportion que ce qu’il a eu, au cours des dernières années.

Un truc important à noter, c’est que comme n’importe quel aspect de la santé, aucune solution ne convient à tout le monde. Ce que je suis, comme diète, est très spécifique à mes propres ennuis de santé.

Parmi les hypothèses, j’en note trois, principales:

  1. Maladie de cœliaque (intolérance au gluten)
  2. Candida (infection fongique)
  3. Parasite (assez logique, puisque ces troubles ont débuté au Mali)

Quoi qu’il en soit, voici les détails de ma diète…

Permis

  • Riz brun
  • Amande (y compris le lait d’amande non-sucré)
  • Graine de citrouille
  • Petits poissons blancs
  • Millet
  • Sarrasin
  • Saumon du Pacifique
  • Truite
  • Riz blanc
  • Tapioca
  • Maïs
  • Thé vert

    Légumes cuits (en petites quantités)

  • Courgette
  • Courge
  • Algue
  • Chou frisé (“kale”)
  • Carotte
  • Panais
  • Fenouil
  • Oignon
  • Poireau
  • Céleri
  • Pomme de terre
  • Pois
  • Haricot

Restreint

  • Sucre
  • Gluten
  • Produit fermenté
  • Alcool
  • Produit laitier
  • Fruit
  • Viande
  • Levure
  • Champignon
  • Tomate
  • Œuf
  • Poivron
  • Légume cru
  • Café
  • Thé noir
  • Saumon de l’Atlantique
  • Noix (autres que les amandes)
  • Légumineuses (autres que les pois et les haricots)

Honnêtement, c’est pas facile à tenir, comme diète. Au début, ce sont surtout les fruits qui me manquaient. Ces temps-ci, j’ai surtout envie d’œufs. Il y a eu plusieurs moments où j’aurais vraiment aimé pouvoir boire du café. Et je m’ennuie de la viande. Sans compter que je peux pratiquement rien manger en resto.

Faut dire que plusieurs de mes plaisirs passent par la bouffe ou par des situations qui tournent autour de la bouffe. On a beau dire, le thé vert a pas le même rôle que l’alcool ou même le café. Et comme je suis maniaque de café et que j’ai été brasseur maison, c’est pas très agréable de devoir me passer de tout ça. Compte tenu, surtout, de mon approche hédoniste.

M’ennuie de la diversité!

Sans compter que les restrictions alimentaires forment un sujet de conversation assez peu stimulant. Parler de ce genre de chose, c’est le contraire de briser la glace. Pas que ça cause un froid, mais c’est un sujet qui peut facilement monopoliser l’attention et qui amène rien de très utile.

Donc, pour un papillon social, c’est spécialement difficile, comme situation. Oh, je m’adapte. Je suis pas comme quelqu’un qui essaie d’arrêter de fumer ou de boire. Mais ça bouscule beaucoup de choses, dans ma vie. Ma joie de vivre est difficile à maintenir, même si les choses se passent bien dans d’autres dimensions de ma vie.

Mais il y a des bons côtés. Y compris les effets positifs sur ma santé.

Un effet intéressant de tout ça, c’est que je me suis mis à cuisiner tous mes repas, parfois en assez grandes quantités. Ça faisait un moment que je voulais m’y remettre et c’était pas idéal comme moment, mais ça s’est assez bien passé jusqu’à maintenant.

Et j’ai fait quelques «découvertes pour moi-même». Par exemple, je me rends compte que j’aime bien le millet, le chou frisé et les algues. Aussi, les graines de citrouilles grillées font un peu l’effet des graines de sésame grillées. Certains craquelins de riz (“rice cakes”) sont plus intéressants que d’autres. Et mon goût pour le thé vert se modifie.

Selon ma naturo, je vais peut-être pouvoir ajouter des éléments à la liste des aliments «permis», une fois qu’elle aurait les résultats de certains tests. J’espère vraiment que ça va être le cas. Si je devais m’astreindre à cette diète sur le long terme, ce serait difficile à vivre. Quelques restrictions à la fois, c’est déjà pas évident. Mais tout en même temps… Ouf!

Mais, bon, il faut ce qu’il faut.

Playful Living / Jouer notre existence

[En français plus bas…]

Playing Next

This evening, I’ll be a guest at a public conversation on playfulness. This event is organized by University of the Streets Café, a community development program at Concordia University’s School of Extended Learning.

This post will serve as a placeholder.

The video above is something I did for Ignite Montreal, and contains much of what I’ve been thinking about, in terms of playfulness. The content can be found here, in different versions:

http://Playfulness.in/

Guests: Marleah Blom, Alexandre Enkerli
Moderator: Jimmy Ung
When: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Where: Arts Café, 201 rue Fairmount Ouest, Montreal, Quebec, H2T 2M8

More info in this Facebook event: http://lar.me/playtalk .

Let’s have fun!

[English above…]

Mise au jeu

Je participerai ce soir à une conversation publique au sujet de l’amusement, organisée dans le cadre de L’Université autrement: dans les cafés (un programme de Concordia). Ça risque d’être amusant. (Plus d’infos ici: http://lar.me/jouons ).

Le 31 mars, j’étais à l’émission La Sphère de Radio-Canada, histoire de parler de ludification. J’y étais en compagnie d’un autre ethnographe, Sylvain Letellier de BeSpoke Montréal (croisé lors d’un 5à7 sur l’innovation ouverte), qui voit des bénéfices à la ludification en marketing et en recherche qualitative.

Conversation intéressante. Mon intention était de parler d’alternatives à la ludification, y compris le jeu ouvert et la conversation. Pas parlé de conversation (à part une mention de notre conversation de ce soir), mais j’ai pu amener le point au sujet du jeu ouvert, ce qui est déjà pas mal.

Pour la conversation publique:
Invités: Marleah Blom, Alexandre Enkerli
Modérateur: Jimmy Ung
Heure: 19h à 21h
Lieu: Arts Café, 201 rue Fairmount Ouest, Montreal, Quebec, H2T 2M8

Ethnic Diversity and Post-Nationalism

I normally don’t enjoy Quora. But I was just asked an anonymous question there which made me react. It’s close to the kind of question I get in my intro-level courses in sociology or anthropology, so I like to “do my job” of elucidating these issues.

Here’s the question:

Can there be such a thing as too much diversity?
Up until recently the rule for all immigrants was “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” This appears to have been replaced by “We’re not going to integrate but live as we did back home.”

Is it possible that at some point diversity becomes a detriment that divides society? Just look at how segregated some cities have become

Here’s my answer:

Funnily enough, I’m preparing an exam on material where this very issue appears. Unfortunately, this material isn’t online.
One of sociology’s core perspectives, functionalism, had “extreme diversity” among the conditions under which social order breaks down. The idea, there, was that it went against society’s integration, since the model was based on well-delimited groups.
That theory has been challenged multiple times. For one thing, very few groups have been that well-integrated. The modern notion of “what The Romans were” comes from a biased view and a limited understanding of what went on at the time. In fact, an episode of the Entitled Opinions podcast contains useful discussions of the very issue.

Same thing can be said about a number of other societies, including contemporary ones.
And this is where things get interesting. We’re probably living a transition from a period marked by the Nation-State (19th and 20th Centuries) to a period marked by fluid groupings, including social networks.
In the Nation-State (contemporary Somalia and Japan, along with the fiction of 19th Century France and possibly a short period of time in Ancient Rome), ethnic homogeneity is presumed and ethnicity is managed through a very complex bureaucratic system related to citizenship. The way ethnic groups are treated then is based on what Benedict Anderson called “Imagined Communities”.
In more fluid systems, which include most of human history, diversity is taken for granted and social integration comes from other dimensions of social life.
In the current context, we have an unusual mixture of rigid Nation-State identities in parallel with the reality of transnationalism, postnationalism, Globalization, and blurred boundaries.
So, to answer the question: is it so clear what the limits of the group are? If so, what are those limits based on? If not, why would diversity be a problem?

For those interested in fluid boundaries, a classic work is Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth’s “Ethnic Groups and Boundaries”.

“Booth Babe” Controversy

I posted the following to the class forums for my two sections of SOCI203 “Introduction to Society”.
This might be a useful context to discuss journalism, gender issues, feminism as equality between genders, and feminist sociology.
Some context…
As Wikipedia says, Violet Blue (her real name) is an author and sex educator.
(Blue’s main site is somewhat NSFW (“Not Safe For Work”, meaning containing some potentially-offensive material), so I won’t link to it in this context, since the point isn’t about risqué blogging.)
Blue has a column about technology and, as far as I can tell from mentions of her name in the “geek scene”, her reputation is quite positive overall.
Like many others, Blue has issues with what she has called “booth babes”. As stated in HollyHen’s aforelinked blog comment, Blue’s description of said “booth babes” specifically paints them as women whose sexuality, sexiness, or sexual attributes are exploited for marketing purposes during trade shows.
The controversy erupted (!) from a picture labeled “The Saddest Booth Babe In The World” which Blue posted in relation to a blogpost she wrote about a Mac-centric trade show. Reactions to that picture came quickly, especially from people who were questioning Blue’s labeling of someone in that picture as a “Booth Babe”. As, again, HollyHen said, it’s hard to interpret anyone in that picture as a “Booth Babe” and there’s even something strange about using such a label in this context.
Where it gets perhaps more interesting (or, at least, sadder) is that the woman labeled as a “Booth Babe” in the picture is likely to be a software developer and Blue has refrained from apologizing for calling her a “sad Booth Babe”. Maybe the label isn’t slanderous or even insulting, in Blue’s mind. But the overall feeling from many readers is that there’s a missed opportunity, here, especially since Blue didn’t dare talk to the subject of her picture.
Instead, Blue has taken a very defensive stance.
I eventually became aware of the controversy through Mac-centric blogs, firstvia John Gruber then via Shawn King. Both King and Gruber have posted followup comments about the controversy. (King’s followup is clearly sarcastic and includes some comments people may easily find offensive.) In my experience, Mac-centric bloggers and several of their readers tend to go through a fairly unique dynamic by which key figures in that scene are frequently defended vigorously in something of a counterattack. In many contexts, it can indeed feel like a “pile on” effect. But I haven’t noticed any occasion where claiming that one is a victim of a Mac-centric pile-on has had an overall positive effect on the conversation or on the person’s overall reputation.
(By the way, what I call “Mac-centric” blogging includes some work by people who have been labeled “Apple fanboys”, but my labeling isn’t meant to carry any specific connotation, whether positive or negative. I just mean people who write about diverse issues using the Mac and other Apple products as a basis for a number of their comments. In journalistic terms, you could say that these are people who have Apple as their “beat”.)
So… Where does that leave us? I already gave something of my opinion about this. I do think the “sad booth babe” label was negative, that it could easily be taken as an insult, and that it seems ill-suited as a description of a software developer who holds a booth at a trade show in order to show off her work. Even if it turns out that the woman in the picture isn’t the Hungarian developer people surmise she might be, I do find it strange that Violet Blue would use her image as a representation of a “sad booth babe”. While the label isn’t as negative as, say, “bimbo” or “ditzy blonde”, I have to agree with HollyHen and others that using it in the legend of that picture has little positive impact on discussion of the issues at hand (exploitation of women to sell computer-related products and services).
But you may disagree.
So, let me know.