Category Archives: Digital Life

Internet 6 or Web 2.0: Video Edition

[Update May 21, 2007: Trackbacks closed because of spam.]
This is getting fun!

Which is faster? Communication in a relatively small group of academics, “viral marketing” from Internet celebrities, or blogs by entreprising Web-savvy people? In this case, seems like the latter has an advantage.

Not that it matters. But it’s interesting, in the context of the move toward Open Access in academia.

A quick rundown of a few elements in a timeline surrounding the dissemination of ideas about the “Web 2.0” via a video created by a fellow anthropologist. I haven’t been really involved in this dissemination process but I find interesting some of the links that connect some of the people who are involved.

On January 31, Kansas State University anthropologist Michael Wesch posted a neat video on YouTube, apparently in response to a video about Web 2.0 posted by China-based tech educational specialist Jeff Utecht almost a year ago. The video has been attracting a lot of attention from different people and some of this attention has followed interesting paths.

On February 5, Montreal Web strategist Martin Lessard posted a blog entry (in French) about Wesch’s video.

Lessard had already written a piece on six cultural groups characterising Internet’s continuing history. That piece has been at the back of my mind for a while, especially when the concept of “Web 2.0” is discussed.

(FWIW, since hearing about it in Tim O’Reilly’s writing a few years ago, I have been thinking of “Web 2.0” as a decent label. That label has already been overused but it did lead to interesting discussions by diverse people.)

Apparently, Lessard found Wesch’s video through someone else. Others have certainly created buzz about Wesch’s video for other reasons (techno-enthusiasm) but Lessard appears to have been rather quick at noticing the insight in Wesch’s video. In fact, Lessard’s blog entry about the video is itself quite insightful and rather elaborate.

This is the first example, in the paths I’ve observed, through which Wesch’s video has been commented. It’s the one linking what we may call “entreprising Web analysts.” People who make a living online (and may depend on online social networking like LinkedIn and blogs). Seems like this path was the fastest one, though I have no idea what happened with Weisch’s video between January 31 and February 5.

A second line of dissemination: what we may call “viral marketing by Internet celebrities.”

On February 6, Internet celebrity and science-fiction author Cory Doctorow (a fellow post-Buster Canadian) mentions Wesch’s video on his well-known blog BoingBoing (through a mention on gaming blog Wonderland). Internet celebrity and Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig then posts a blog entry about Wesch’s video on February 7. (Interestingly enough, on Lessig’s blog, some comments about the video relate to ethnography and cultural anthropology.)

Now, the third mode of dissemination: informal communication among academics.

By February 9, Michigan State University librarian Shawn Nicholson sends a message to librarian mailing-list ANSS-L about the video. This message is relayed to a Google Group on Open Access Anthropology by Weber State University librarian Wade Kotter.

(As luck would have it, I attended a brewclub meeting later on February 9 and fellow Montreal coffee and beer enthusiast Aaron Marchand was asking about Web 2.0 after having seen Wesch’s video.)

As it so happens, Michael Wesch himself is a member of the OA Anthropology Google group and he explained to the list, on February 10, that this video is a draft created for an online edition of academic journal Visual Anthropology Review.

It’s only at that time that I found the time to watch the video and share it here. Anthropologist and artist Sarah Butler then commented on the video via my blog. Which motivated me to to send a message to OA Anthro about Web 2.0 in the context of Open Access. It’s only while writing that message that I noticed Lessard’s earlier blog entry on Wesch’s video.


Now, what’s my point in all of this? Well, I’m simply trying to emphasise Wesch’s idea that online communication (and the Web, specifically) may be forcing us to rethink different aspects of the dissemination of knowledge. Including the differences between , one one hand, academic gatekeeping (experts and “peers”) and, on the other hand, the fluid relationships of online-savvy, motivated people.

In other words, I’m emphatically not saying that any of this proves that academics are too slow for the current means of online communication. Nor am I trying to imply that communication among Web-savvy people is in some ways “better” than group discussion among academics. But we do need to reassess the value of “publishing” as the sole model for the dissemination of knowledge.

Why do I care so much? Well, apart from the fact that my doctoral research has to do with what we may call “knowledge workers” in Mali, I happen to care about the way academics and others handle issues surrounding communication. As naïve as it sounds, I still do think that dissemination of knowledge is an important mission for academics.

My battle cry: RERO!

We Do Live in Interesting Times

And I mean that in a positive, optimistic, hopeful, idealistic way.

Been pretty busy recently. Have a bunch of things to read and catch up with. So this’ll just be a series of links. I feel they’re all related, in a way…

Will the GBN jump in now or did it do so already?

Goût de café: Jacques Attali

Depuis ma lecture de son Bruits, Jacques Attali est entré dans la longue liste des gens avec qui j’aimerais prendre un café.

C’est pas tant que je sois d’accord avec ses idées ou même avec son approche. Il me sert pas non plus de modèle. Mais je trouve certaines de ses analyses très compatibles avec ma propre approche et j’aimerais bien pouvoir discuter avec lui, quelques minutes. D’autant plus qu’il me semble assez facile d’approche.

C’est sans doute trompeur, mais son attitude générale me semble rendre possible des contacts informels, au-delà des statuts. Cette attitude est, d’après moi, trop rare parmi certaines catégories d’intellectuels. Pourtant, la vie de l’esprit n’est pas vraiment une quête du prestige.


So, 2006 has been the Year of You. “You” as any individual, consumer, user, amateur, person, personality, etc. With a strong tendency toward netizens living in the U.S. and participating in the so-called “Web 2.0” phenomenon.

For instance, “You” are (is) TIME‘s person of the year. Now It’s Your Turn — Dec. 25, 2006 — Page 1 Time’s Person of the Year: You — Dec. 25, 2006 — Page 1

To some occasional readers of U.S. mainstream magazines, TIME‘s decision sounds like a rehash of the July 1 issue of Business 2.0:

The 50 Who Matter Now – July 1, 2006

1 You! THE CONSUMER AS CREATOR WHY YOU MATTER: They’ve long said the customer is always right. But they never really meant it. Now they have no choice. You–or rather, the collaborative intelligence of tens of millions of people, the networked you–continually create and filter new forms of content, anointing the useful, the relevant, and the amusing and rejecting the rest. You do it on websites like Amazon, Flickr, and YouTube, via podcasts and SMS polling, and on millions of self-published blogs. In every case, you’ve become an integral part of the action as a member of the aggregated, interactive, self-organizing, auto-entertaining audience. But the You Revolution goes well beyond user-generated content. Companies as diverse as Delta Air Lines and T-Mobile are turning to you to create their ad slogans. Procter & Gamble and Lego are incorporating your ideas into new products. You constructed open-source and are its customer and its caretaker. None of this should be a surprise, since it was you–your crazy passions and hobbies and obsessions–that built out the Web in the first place. And somewhere out there, you’re building Web 3.0. We don’t yet know what that is, but one thing’s for sure: It will matter.

Quite insightful in both cases. But not as much as the Internet’s Six Cultures model.

Personally, I’d like to see more people discussing the concepts of individualism, self-determination, creativity, social change, mercantilism, democracy, egoticism, and global identities in this You-focused context.

Early October Quickies

Actually, they’re more like late September links, but still…

Is that Disparate enough for you? 😉

They Dropped The Other Shoe

[Disclaimer: I’m not necessarily an Apple fanboy but I have been an enthusiastic Mac user since 1987 and have owned several Apple products, from an iPod to a QuickTake camera. I also think that technology is having a big impact on arts, media, and entertainment.]

Just watched Apple’s "Showtime" Special Event. Didn’t really read or even listen to anything much about it yet. During that event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced new versions of all the iPod models, a new version of iTunes, and the addition of movies to the iTunes store. In addition, Jobs gave a sneak peak of an upcoming box to link iTunes with televisions and stereo systems.

People are likely to have been disappointed by the announcements. They’re probably saying that Steve Jobs’s famous "Reality Distortion Field" isn’t working, or that he lost his "mojo." They might even wonder about his health. Again…

Not that the new products are really boring, but there tend to be high expectations surrounding Apple announcements. This one is no different as people expected wireless capabilities on iPods and recording capabilities on the new "media centre" box, which was in fact part of the expected new products from Apple.

But this event is significant in another way. Through it, Apple explained their strategy, revealed a number of years ago as the Digital Hub. What some have called "convergence," quite a few years ago. Nothing really new. It’s just coming into full focus.

Though we may never know how much of it unfolded as planned, Apple’s media/tech strategy may appear rather prescient in retrospect. IIRC, it started in 1996, during Gil Amelio’s tenure. Or, more probably, in 1997 during the switch between Amelio and Jobs. Even by, say, 1999, that strategy was still considered a bold move. That was before the first iPod which, itself, was before iTunes, the iTunes Music Store, and most other current media-centric technologies at Apple. It was also at a time when user-generated content was relatively unimportant. In other ways, that was during the "Web 1.0" Internet bubble, before the "Web 2.0" craze for blogs, podcasts, and "social networking."

Apple isn’t the only corporation involved in the changes in the convergence between technology and the world of "content" (arts, media, entertainment). But it has played a key role. Whatever his success as a CEO, Steve Jobs has influenced the direction of change and, to an extent, shape a part of digital life to his own liking. While he’s clearly not clueless, his vision of the link between "content" and technology is quite specific. It does integrate user-generated content of "varying degrees of professionalism" (which he joked about during his presentation) but it gives precedence to the "content industry" (involving such powerful groups and lobbies as WIPO, NAB, MPAA, RIAA, etc.). Jobs’s position at Pixar makes him a part of that industry. Which is quite different from what arts and expressive culture can be.

Jobs invites musicians on stage with him (John Mayer, Wynton Marsalis, John Legend). He respects musicians and he might even appreciate their work. But his view of their work is that they produce content to consumed. For Jobs, music tracks, audiobooks, television episodes, movies, and music videos are all "contents" to be enjoyed by consumers. Now, the consumer can enjoy content "anywhere" as Apple is "in your den, in your living-room, in your car, and in your pocket." But what about public spaces? Concert halls, churches, coffee shops, parks, public libraries, classrooms, etc.? Oh! Apple can be there too! Yeah, of course. But those are not part of the primary vision. In Apple’s view, consumers all have their own iTunes accounts, media libraries, preferences, and content-consuming habits. A nuclear family may count as a unit to a certain extent (as Bob Iger pointed out in his "cameo appearance" during Jobs’s event). But the default mode is private consumption.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Even the coolest things online are often based on the same model. It’s just that it’s not the only way to do things. Music, for instance, can be performed in public. In fact, it can be a collaborative process. The performers themselves need not be professionals. There’s no need for an audience, even. And there’s no need to see it as "intellectual property." Music is not a product. It’s a process by which human beings organize sound.

Ah, well…

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iRiver H120 (Digital Audio Jukebox)

Recently purchased a brand new iRiver H120 with remote control on eBay from OutletMP3. Paid 132.50$ plus 18$ shipping. Also purchased a 3-year warranty through SquareTrade for 16$.
Item arrived as described, with both the European power adapter (in the original box) and a North American power adapter (in the shipping box). The remote control is included in the package but is outside of the original box. OutletMP3 sells those iRiver H120 devices with or without remote control (usually at about the same price).
Yes. “Would do business with OutletMP3 again.” (As it turns out, they sell iriver products quite frequently on eBay and they have an eBay store with “Buy It Now” iRiver H120 devices without remote for 150$ each.)
The best things about this device are its recording features. Those iRiver H1x0 models can record uncompressed sound in WAV format at 16bit with a sampling rate of 48 kHz (so-called “DAT quality”), 44.1 kHz (so-called “CD-quality”), or lower (“FM-quality,” “voice quality”). It also records directly to MP3 files (with the official firmware) in a variety of encoding settings (up to 320 kbps). It has an internal microphone for voice dictation as well as an input for external microphone, analog line in, or optical in.
The box includes a surprisingly decent lavaliere-style monophonic microphone. Not an excellent microphone in any way but clearly better than one might expect (though Laith Ulaby had told me that this microphone was decent).

In terms of operation, the unit has some strengths. The overall interface is much less convenient than that of the iPod, say, but the battery lasts longer than most iPods (for playback). The iRiver H120’s remote has a small LCD screen which shows enough information for most needs making it possible for me to keep the H120 in my pant pocket and operate the device with the remote. While, among portable players, only the iPod has native support for AAC and lossless formats, iRiver players support Ogg Vorbis and WMA. Haven’t done anything in Ogg format yet but it might be an interesting option (though it does make files less compatible with other players).

Apart from navigation and interface, the main differences with my previous iPod 2G have to do with iTunes integration. The iPod‘s synchronization with iTunes made it rather convenient to create and update playlists or to transfer podcasts. iRiver’s models may not be used in the same fashion. However, the iRiver H120 can in fact be used with iTunes through a plugin meant for Archos players. However, this plugin seems to have some problems with a few files (probably because of invalid characters like ‘/’ and ‘:’ in filenames), generates non-working playlists on Mac OS X, and puts all filed in an “Artist/Album” hierarchy which makes iRiver navigation more complicated.

What surprised me somewhat was that the H120, a USB 2.0 device, works perfectly well with my old iBook (Dual USB) which only has USB 1.1 ports. No need for special drivers and the device then works pretty much like a (20GB) USB drive. Since the iRiver H120 works as a USB drive, it’s easy to transfer files to and from the device (contrary to the iPod which makes somewhat more difficult). All audio files can be put at the root level on the iRiver and audio recordings made on the iRiver are in the “RECORD” folder at the root level of the drive. While the iBook’s USB 1.1 ports are much slower than USB 2.0 ones, they do the job well enough for my needs. (Will be going back to my entry-level emachines H3070 in a few days.) A 400 MB file recorded on the iRiver (about 40 minutes of 16 bit stereo sound at 44.1 kHz) transferred to the iBook through USB 1.1 in less than ten minutes. Slow, but bearable. My old iPod used a Firewire 400 (aka IEEE 1394 or i.Link) connection which is about the same speed as USB 2.0 in most conditions. My entry-level emachines desktop has both USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 ports (thanks to an inexpensive Firewire card).

Was thinking about putting Rockbox on the H120 but SquareTrade tells me that it may void their warranty, which would be an inconvenient. The Rockbox has some neat features and seems safe enough to use on “production machines,” but its features aren’t that compelling for me at this point.
The H120 has a radio (FM) tuner, which could be useful to some people but isn’t really a compelling feature for me. Haven’t listen to much radio in the past several years. Podcasts are soooo much better!

Speaking of podcasts… One of my reasons for purchasing this machine (instead of a more recent iPod) was the ease of recording. This is clearly not a professional recording device but the sound quality seems quite decent for my needs at this point. Should be using it to record lectures and distribute them as podcasts or “lecturecasts” (yeah, ugly name, sorry!). In my mind, educational podcasting can supplement lectures quite nicely. Have been to a few workshops and presentations on technology use in teaching and most people seem to agree that technology is no replacement for good pedagogy but that good pedagogy can be supplemented and complemented (if not complimented!) by interesting tools. Had been thinking about a recording iPod to integrate podcasts with course material. It would have been quite useful, especially in connection with iLife and iWork. But an iPod 5G (with video) is already much more expensive than my iRiver H120 and the add-ons to enable 44.1 kHz / 16 bit recording on the iPod are only now getting to market at a price almost half that of my brand new iRiver H120. Plus, though the iPod is well-integrated with iTunes on Windows, iLife and iWork applications are only available on Mac OS X 10.4 and, thus, will not run on the entry-level emachines H3070 which will become my primary machine again in a few days.
In other words, my ideal podcasting/lecturecasting solution is out of my reach at this point. And contrary to tenure-track faculty, lecturers and adjunct faculty get no technology budget for their own use.
Ah, well…

Still, my iRiver H120 will work fine as a recorder. Already did a few essays with voice and environmental sounds. The lavaliere microphone was quite convenient to record myself while taking a walk which sounds like an unusual activity but was in fact quite relaxing and rather pleasant. In terms of environmental sounds, the same microphone picked up a number of bird songs (as well as fan noises).
Among the things that distinguish the H120 from a professional recorder is the lack of a proper calibration mechanism. It’s not possible to adjust the recording levels of the two channels independently and it’s even not possible to adjust volume during recording. (There’s a guide offering some guidance on how to work within those constraints.) Quite unsurprisingly (for what is mostly an MP3 player) but also making the device less of a professional device, its jacks are 3.5 mm “stereo mini-plugs” (instead of, say, XLR jacks). For that matter, the iRiver H120 compares favourably to several comparably-priced MiniDisc recorders, even Hi-MD models. Did field research with a used ATRAC 4.0 MiniDisc recorder. That setup worked somewhat adequately but this iRiver H120 is much of an improvement for me.

Got a few pet peeves about the iRiver H120. For instance, it has no actual clock so recorded files do not carry a timestamp. A minor quibble, of course, but it would have been useful. The overall navigation is as awkward as that of my first MP3 device, the RioVolt (which also used iRiver firmware). One navigational issue is that navigating up and down in the folder hierarchy is done through the stop and play buttons instead of, say, using one of the three jog switches on the remote. Some functions only work when the device is stopped while others work while it’s playing. Switching from hard-disk playing to recording or to FM is a bit awkward and cumbersome. The unit takes a while to turn on and doesn’t really have a convenient sleep mode. While it is possible to resume playing on a track that has been stopped, this feature seems not to work every time. Fast forwarding rate (“scan speed”) is set in a menu instead of being dynamic as on the iPod. The device doesn’t support ratings or, really, descriptions (although Rockbox might be able to support those).

Also got a few well-appreciated features, apart from those stated above. The EQ and SRS presets are appropriate and relatively easy to use. Contrary to the iPod 2G it is possible to play files at a higher rate (increasing the “playback speed”) making it possible to listen to voice at a higher speech rate (and higher frequency). It’s also possible to delete files directly from the device.

At any rate, that’s already a long entry and experience with my H120 will probably push me to write more about the device.

Feel free to comment or send questions through email.